Like last year, participating in the Welfare Food Challenge has helped me to better understand the lived reality for people living on Income Assistance. Everyone knows that living on $710/month in Vancouver with the high cost of housing and food and all, is completely unrealistic. Where does the rationale for $710 come from? How can policy makers truthfully justify this number?
Eating on $19/week as I have this past week confirms what we all must know, which is that Income Assistance rates are cruel and punishing. I have felt hungry most of the week, I feel a bit more tired, I am sure that I have lost some weight. A person cannot live with any dignity on such little money. Worse, they are apt to get sick. With little money to purchase food, those on IA are then dependent on the charity sector to get by….a shocking development that we have seen institutionalized in this recent era of neo-liberalism and downloading of government responsibilities onto communities. For more on this subject read Graham Riches indictment of the charity food sector in First World Hunger Revisited: Food Charity or the Right to Food.
I have always believed that the measure of a just and compassionate society is how we treat our most vulnerable. I believe in the adage that the wellbeing of each individual is inextricably tied to the wellbeing of all. Sadly, we find ourselves living in a greedy, consumerist society in which our (self) worth becomes measured by our purchasing ability. It is hard to feel hopeful these days but there are glimmers of hope as people around the world are fighting back. Our new NDP provincial government has promised to tackle poverty, a pro cyclist woman mayor was just elected in Montreal, the first transgender member of a state legislature in Virginia, Democrat Danica Roem, beat out a republican, a progressive feminist Prime Minister was just elected in New Zealand. There is a rise in activist politics and a growing resistance to policies of hate and discrimination……There is hope.
Overhauling our income assistance policy is an important fight also for food justice, ensuring that those who are struggling (and we all struggle from time to time) get the support they need to get ahead, to get healthy, to feel connected to others, to feel a part of community, to feel a positive self worth, and to be an active member of the community however one freely chooses. This should not be so hard to achieve. Imagine how great it would be if everyone was well fed, well housed, well paid, well loved. This is the community I want to live in.