Hungry for change

Welfare Food Challenge meant to illustrate required changes to income assistance

By Patrick Vaillancourt, News Editor

A BC group with goals of alleviating poverty and homelessness in the province is inviting the public to participate in their second annual Welfare Food Challenge.

The challenge, which saw over 130 people participate last year, insists that a participant live on only $26 of food for one week, roughly the amount a recipient of income assistance would have left after paying for expenses such as housing and transit.

The week-long challenge begins on Wednesday October 16, coinciding with the United Nations’ World Food Day.

A single income assistance recipient with no dependents receives $610 per month, a rate which has been frozen for over six years.

Bill Hopwood, the organizer for the Raise the Rates campaign which launched the Welfare Food Challenge, says that $26 seems to be the average amount remaining for an income assistance recipient once all other expenses are factored in.

“This is based on the knowledge that welfare recipients have to pay for rent, bus tickets, phone calls and some hygiene out of their $610, and there is little money left for other expenses,” said Hopwood.

Hopwood states that while income assistance is meant to provide some protection for people who have fallen on hard times, the amount of assistance provided is inadequate to prevent people from falling into poverty and the associated stresses that come with poverty.

“[We’re] working to raise public awareness of the extreme poverty of people on welfare and how this causes ill-health, stress, and emotional harm,” said Hopwood.

Hopwood laments that while the income assistance regime costs billions of dollars in BC taxpayer money every year, raising the income assistance rates may provide the provincial government with savings in other areas, such as in health care and other social services frequented by people on income assistance.

Organizers of the Welfare Food Challenge are actively looking for participants to take it up this year. Last year, over 130 people took on the challenge, including journalists, students, politicians, and health care workers.

In January of 2012, then-Surrey-Fleetwood MLA Jagrup Brar spent the entire month living on the income assistance rate, moving into a small room and spending no more than the income assistance allowance for food and other items. After completing the month-long challenge, he had lost 26 pounds.

“I learned a great deal from my experience of living on $610, the welfare rate, for the month of January 2012,” said Brar in a statement made last year on the Raise the Rates website. “One thing I know is that it is extremely difficult to get enough nutritious food. I was often hungry and at times my head was fuzzy.”

Those interested in taking the challenge can get more information on the Raise the Rates website at