Thank you for your current series, ‘Poverty in Paradise,’ by Lissa Alexander. It sheds light on the lives of quiet desperation and hunger that many British Columbians both with and without disabilities are leading.
MLA Michelle Stilwell’s response when asked about disability rates in B.C. stressed that the disability payments to individuals with disabilities “is balanced between what is necessary to help people and what is fiscally acceptable to taxpayers.” I would respectfully suggest that as an MLA new to her position, Stilwell may not realize that the Person’s With Disability (PWD) rate has only increased $120 per month between 2001 and 2012. That is about an $11 per month increase per year over 11 years, far short of what is needed for PWD recipients to cover even the most basic needs.
The shelter portion of the PWD benefit is $375. The Survey of Household Spending data says that the average cost of a bachelor suite in B.C. is $768/month. That is 84 per cent of the PWD benefit. This means that a person on PWD rates is left with $130 to live on if paying a typical rent for a bachelor unit.
Stilwell suggests that “strengthening the economy and creating an atmosphere for investment” is the focus of the present government, and that the best way to lift people out of poverty is to “ensure people have a job.” The reality is that of all of the people receiving income support in B.C., approximately 61 per cent are people with disabilities. While some are able to work part-time, many have disabilities which prevent even part time employment. Alberta has recently raised their monthly PWD rate from $1,188 to $1,588. Yet B.C., with the highest housing costs in Canada, provides a disability payment that results in extreme hunger for many with disabilities.
There are significant health costs related to chronic poor nutrition. Taxpayers end up paying for that. The UN says that Canada has a significant food security issue for low-income citizens. It is the role of a just and fair society to help our most vulnerable citizens.
Virginia Brucker, Nanoose Community Services, Nanoose Bay