NDP MLAs mingle with protesters at rally against changes to disability assistance payments at the B.C. legislature March 2.

BC VIEWS: Why so cheap with the poor?

Despite their frequent demands for more, no one should understand them better than the B.C. NDP

We hear a lot here at the B.C. legislature about hard-hearted government treatment of the poor.

It’s a serious problem, and one often obscured by the partisan Punch-and-Judy show that passes for political debate in this province.

As things stand, Premier Christy Clark’s government is heading into an election year with a basic income assistance rate for single employable adults at $610 a month, unchanged since the last miserly increase in 2007. Couples on assistance get up to $877.22, or up to $1,101.06 if they have two children.

If those children are aged three or more, parents are required to look for work and file monthly reports that show they still need income assistance.

The B.C. Liberals’ February budget left the basic rates and rules the same, with new applicants required to look for work for five weeks before getting a first cheque. There are sound reasons for this hard line, and despite their frequent demands for more, no one should understand them better than the B.C. NDP.

Mike Harcourt’s NDP government raised rates in 1991, and also eased eligibility rules to let people stay on assistance longer. Within two years, B.C.’s welfare rolls were nearly 10 per cent of the working-age population and climbing.

Harcourt famously denounced the “cheats, deadbeats and varmints” gaming the system, rolled the single employable rate back to $500 a month and imposed some of the harsh eligibility and job search rules that remain today. The caseload of single employable recipients declined by a third.

The current B.C. Liberal government did approve a $77 increase to the $906 disability income assistance rate, to take effect this September. Mostly what they got was protests about implementing a $52 monthly charge for transit passes.

Social Development Minister Michelle Stilwell rejected opposition claims that transit passes are being cancelled. There are 45,000 disability clients who don’t have access to transit, and they receive nothing for their transportation costs. If those who can use them want to continue, the cost comes out of their rate increase.

A protest was organized for the legislature lawn March 2, featuring disability activists and NDP politicians. As I arrived, Hospital Employees’ Union members were posing for pictures with New Westminster MLA Judy Darcy, a former HEU business manager. Others in HEU T-shirts were leading developmentally disabled people up to the small crowd.

All typical B.C. political theatre, with the union’s role omitted from news reports as usual. But I had to wonder about the NDP demand for taxpayers to top up the $170 million disability assistance budget increase with another $35 million a year, to provide bus passes to those lucky enough to be able to use them.

Most people on disability assistance aren’t commuting to work daily. If they were, they would likely no longer be eligible. If they are able to use transit, it’s mainly for shopping, medical appointments and social activities.

When the change takes effect this fall, I intend to find out how many people decide to take the $77 increase and pay for transit only when they need it. I suspect there will be many.

Faith Bodnar of the activist group Inclusion BC summed it up well when she spoke to the rally.

“Government, all you did was equalize poverty for people with disabilities in B.C.,” she said.

Note that Bodnar wasn’t calling for the NDP position of a further increase that only urban people could use. She was saying the rate still isn’t high enough.

That’s the real issue.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

Just Posted

Trudeau announces $79M investment for 118 more public transit buses across B.C.

Contributions from municipal to federal level to fund more buses in a bid to cut commutes

Sun on its way after Greater Victoria sees wettest July in six years

Environment Canada meteorologists say the drizzle is likely to end soon

After Victoria dad’s death, Technical Safety BC wants changes to trampoline park rules

Jay Greenwood, 46, did ‘a series of acrobatic manoeuvres prior to a fall that caused serious injury and cardiac arrest’

Join Oak Bay’s heritage walk and scavenger hunt this Saturday

Hunt seeks significant examples of historical architecture in Oak Bay

VIDEO: 1,400 classic cars roll into Victoria for Deuce Days

The four-day festival highlights classic hot rods, with a special emphasis on cars built in 1932

BCHL: Alberni Valley Bulldogs have been sold

Victoria company has purchased BCHL team, but will keep it in Port Alberni

“Does Kirby care?” B.C. First Nation’s group using geo-targeted ads in Houston, Texas for justice

The Heiltsuk Tribal Council has called out Kirby Corporation for the Nathan E. Stewart oil spill

B.C. woman wins record $2.1 million on casino slot machine

‘That night was so surreal … I wasn’t able to sleep or eat for the first two days,’ she said

LETTER: Refining bitmen not a good idea

One of the arguments against increasing the capacity of the Trans Mountain… Continue reading

LETTER: Welcome to Nevergreen Mall

Re: Work starts on mall expansion (News, July 17) Welcome to Nevergreen… Continue reading

$900M settlement reached in class action on sexual misconduct in Canadian military

After facing criticism, the government moved to begin settlement proceedings in early 2018

Tax take stays ahead of increased B.C. government spending

Tax revenue $2.1 billion higher than budget in 2018-19

Most Read