The Out Of Poverty Parade brought together a range of community advocates calling for change
By Spencer van Vloten
The day may have started damp and dark, but the sun quickly emerged as disability and anti-poverty activists came together in Vancouver for a spirited call to raise social assistance rates.
Signs Of The Times
Despite the recent announcement that social assistance rates will be raised by $175 per month, upon arriving at the Out Of Poverty Parade it was immediately apparent that participants weren't impressed by the increase, which keeps social assistance rates well beneath the poverty line.
With an array of placards on display, participants took to Howe Street with calls to raise the rates at least to the poverty line, and to improve access to housing. The message was heard loud and clear by passersby, who regularly stopped to show their support for the cause.
Helping set the tone was a jazz trio, whose lively tunes added to the collegial spirit and push for change.
And we're gonna raise those rates.....
After raising awareness on the streets, the event moved to the mic, as activists spoke out on why the current situation is unacceptable.
One of the first speakers was Vancouver city councilor Jean Swanson.
Councilor Swanson decried the $175 increase as insufficient, noting that the federal government established $2000 a month as the amount needed to live on, a figure nearly $650 more than BC social assistance rates will be following the increase.
She was also eager to point out that a wealth tax could be one way to raise the funds for an increase. As she explained, 87 families in Canada are richer than the poorest 12 million Canadians, and BC's wealthiest person, Jimmy Pattison, made $5.5 billion during the pandemic.
Vancouver city councilor Jean Swanson didn't hold back
Each spoke about their lived experiences and the challenges of living on social assistance. These included homelessness, the inability to afford vital medications, and being unable to feed oneself as a single mother on disability.
Each person had a different story, but the commonality was clear: even with a $175 increase, the social assistance rates are keeping people in poverty and unable to afford even the most basic necessities of life.
Moving Forward -- Together
The $175 increase makes it as important as ever to keep speaking out and pushing for change.
The government can now claim that they've raised the rates, and indeed, some headlines speak of the biggest ever increase in provincial history; that probably sounds good to a lot of people.
This puts an extra responsibility on disability and anti-poverty advocates to counter simplified headlines and talking points, which fail to appreciate the realities of living on social assistance and don't meet the rates recommended by the federal government and provincial reports.
The event featured portraits and personal accounts of living on disability assistance from InsufficientArtProject.ca
As Brian from VANDU stated, "the squeaky wheel gets the grease." Write letters to MLAs and publications. Attend events like the Out Of Poverty Parade. Educate friends and family. Share your story of living the cold, hard life of poverty. Work across sectors with activists and organizations who share your vision of a BC where everyone can thrive.
While this will be a long-term journey replete with frustration, we can do it if we work together and keep our voices loud, and the Out Of Poverty Parade was sure a good start.
Spencer van Vloten is the editor of BC Disability. To get in touch, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org!