MLA for Surrey Fleetwood accepts challenge to live on welfare for January

Published on November 29, 2011

Jagrup Brar, MLA Surrey Fleetwood, has accepted the MLA Welfare Challenge to live on the welfare rate of $610 for a month. He will start on Jan. 1, 2012, spending part of the month in Surrey and part in Vancouver.

“We’re delighted that Jagrup has agreed to live on $610 for the month of January,” said Jean Swanson of Raise the Rates, a BC coalition that wants governments to reduce and end poverty.  “We are confident that his experience will help the public understand that welfare rates are too low to live on and that politicians will act to tackle poverty.”

The announcement was made at Surrey Urban Mission in  Surrey. Brar will have $610, the single person’s welfare rate, to cover all his expenses for the full month of January. This includes his housing, food, transit, phone, personal hygiene and all other expenses.

“After much consideration and support from my family, stakeholders and colleagues, I decided to accept the Welfare Challenge to experience first hand what life is like for more than 180,000 individuals who live on welfare,” said Brar.

“I have chosen this path believing that through this challenge I can gain a stronger understanding of the underlying causes of poverty and how poverty affects the lives of the people around us and better address these issues in my community and around the province in my role as a Member of the Legislative Assembly.”

“Jagrup Brar will meet many people who depend on welfare, disability and low fixed incomes to hear their experiences of how they came to be in poverty and how they struggle to survive on an inadequate income. This month will raise public awareness of the reality of people’s life on welfare, how low welfare rates are and how unfair many welfare rules are.” said Swanson.

It was 25 years ago that another MLA, Emery Barnes, took the welfare challenge.

“Out of all my father’s countless achievements, the one thing he is remembered for most is when he decided to walk the walk and lived in the downtown Eastside on welfare for one month," said Constance Barnes, Emery Barnes’ daughter. "He was frustrated that welfare rates kept people in poverty, so he demonstrated in a very honest way that you can’t have a healthy life on welfare. As sad as it is, not much has changed in 25 years. I am thrilled to see another strong voice step up to the plate, and courageously fight this battle. I will be supporting this MLA as I did my dad!

"Poverty doesn’t have a postal code. It exists everywhere in BC,” said Jonquil Hallgate of Surrey Urban Mission. “Society has to understand that low income people are their neighbours.  We need to make changes now so that people don’t suffer so much.”

Last May, Raise the Rates challenged all BC MLAs and both leaders to live on the welfare rate for a single person who is expected to look for work. Since then, Raise the Rates has been searching for an MLA to take up the challenge, and working with Brar to arrange the practicalities of taking the Challenge. Raise the Rates and a number of Surrey partners will work together to provide support and advice. They will organize meetings to ensure that Brar has a valuable and insightful experience, learning first-hand about poverty, inequality and ‘being on welfare’.

Raise the Rates and Brar are well aware that living on $610 for only one month will not provide the same experience as a person who actually lives on welfare. He will start the Challenge in good health and with adequate clothes; and his life on welfare will end after a month.