Minister defends no B.C. welfare rate increase in 10 years

Social Development Minister Michelle Stilwell is defending the provincial government's decision to keep income assistance rates at $610 a month in the latest provincial budget, the same rate it has been for the past 10 years.

At $610 a month, B.C.'s welfare rate is one of the lowest in the country.

Long-time poverty advocate Jean Swanson says the rates are too low for the province's cost of living.

"The amount is despicable," she said. "It's very degrading to have to apply for welfare and very stigmatizing. The amount needs to be increased a lot."

Stilwell, who is the minister of social development and social innovation, defended the unchanged rates on CBC's The Early Edition.

"I recognize it would be challenging for anybody to live on $610 a month," she said.

"A person who is on that income assistance doesn't get just $610 ... Individuals who are receiving income assistance are also receiving free MSP, free pharmacare, access to emergency dental and dentures services ... tax credits."

When it was pointed out the City of Vancouver lists the average rent for single room occupancy at $479 and the rental allowance under the program is only $375, Stilwell said people weren't prevented from using more of their $610 for rent.

She emphasized income assistance is meant to be a temporary measure and the government is focused on making investments to help people get back into the workforce "as quickly as possible."

She pointed out individuals can get a variety of different services — like transportation to a work interview — at WorkBC offices.

"I'm not saying it's not challenging," she said.

"All we can do as a government is provide those supports to ensure that people are able to get into employment and find their way into that path and into a successful outcome."

With files from The Early Edition

To listen to the interview, click on the link labelled Minister Stilwell defends B.C.'s income assistance rates