Life on welfare: separating fact from fiction

Letter: Seth Klein B.C. director, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives; Vancouver Sun

The Fraser Institute’s defence of abysmally low welfare benefit rates is ideology trumping any understanding of what life on welfare is like.

The Fraser economists state we needn’t worry about the $610 basic rate, because a majority of welfare recipients receive more (either because they have children or a recognized disability), an amount they deem adequate.

They are right that a majority receive more than $610, but far off the mark in deeming it adequate.

As the National Council of Welfare notes, those on welfare with children or with a disability still live thousands of dollars below the poverty line.

And extensive research conducted by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (which followed real people on welfare over a two-year period, rather than just pondering numbers as the Fraser folks have) found that even those in receipt of the higher (supposedly adequate) rates were still frequently reliant on food banks and other charities to meet basic needs.

Indeed, we found low rates often force people to make destructive choices such as remaining in abusive relationships.

Adequate? The family welfare incomes don’t even reach the Fraser Institute’s own thin-gruel poverty line, a line that is itself significantly lower than every other low-income measure produced in the country.

The authors don’t want welfare to be attractive. Well, we are a long way from that. The reality is that life on welfare is a day-to-day struggle in which all one’s time and effort is spent merely meeting basic needs for food and shelter, which ironically makes it harder to find work.