This year’s Welfare Food Challenge starts on October 16th and participants will be expected to purchase all of the food that they consume for 7 days with only $18. This is the amount that Raise the Rates, the organizer for the challenge, has calculated someone on welfare has left for food after paying their expenses. Last year the amount was $26, but the rising cost of rent has reduced the amount by $8 to a measly $18. It’s clearly impossible to adequately feed oneself with $18 per week and the Challenge emphasizes the absurdity of a social welfare system that produces such an outcome in a rich country.
Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks (VNFNs) work to reduce food insecurity through initiatives such as community kitchens, food rescue, bulk buying, skills building workshops, meal programs, and advocacy, and recognize that policy action is needed to address the root causes. “Sadly, we are seeing a rise in demand and increasing waitlist for some of our food distribution programs….many people simply cannot afford to buy food when faced with the increased cost of living in Vancouver. People are forced to choose between paying rent and buying food. We recognize that the Welfare Food Challenge is not a Challenge that can be won” says Ian Marcuse of the Grandview Woodland Food Connection.
Income assistance rates in BC have been stagnant for the last 9 years, with a single person receiving only $610 a month. This is not enough to support basic needs, nor positive health outcomes. Furthermore, these rates violate people’s human rights and basic dignity. The Dietitians of Canada (2016) point out that there are serious negative effects on physical and mental health when people cannot afford a healthy diet – food prices in BC have risen 12% since 2009 and “it is timely for further income and disability assistance reform so that more British Columbians can afford sufficient healthy food and meet their nutritional needs.”
Raise the Rates’ Welfare Food Challenge draws attention to this issue from the lens of food insecurity. VNFNs support Raise the Rates’ call to action to raise income assistance rates recognizing that people require the financial means to purchase their own food, and will be participating in the Challenge. Charitable food solutions to hunger are not solving the problem: more than 12% of British Columbians remain food insecure even with substantial amounts of support from the charitable food sector. Local communities are doing their part and VNFNs call on the provincial government to increase food security by raising income assistance rates.
VNFNs represent 12 neighbourhoods across Vancouver and engage with the most marginalized community members, witnessing first-hand the detrimental impact that barriers to accessing food and abject poverty can have on complex health conditions, such as diabetes, HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C, and cardiovascular disease. It is often those with the greatest need for high quality nutritious food that face the most difficult barriers to accessing it.
Information on the Welfare Food Challenge can be found at: welfarefoodchallenge.org