Can you live on $627 a month? Think about how much you spend on your most basic needs like shelter, food and transportation? Could you find housing for under $627? Could you then afford to feed yourself? These are the types of questions that some of the most vulnerable Albertans have to ask themselves as they try and survive on social assistance (often referred to as income support).
In Alberta, individuals who do not have the resources to meet their basic needs like food, clothing and shelter are eligible to receive help to pay for those necessities. Generally, there are four situations when someone could find themselves qualifying for income support:
- They cannot work because of chronic health problems or other barriers;
- They are unemployed, temporarily unable to work or working but not earning enough to meet their basic needs;
- They require training so they can get a job;
- They are faced with an unexpected, one-time emergency that’s no fault of their own like a sudden eviction due to fire.
The folks accessing income support are some of the most vulnerable in our community. The base annual income support benefit for the ‘single employable’ recipient was just under $8,000 in 2016. To put that in perspective, Statistics Canada has calculated the poverty line (the minimum level of income needed to secure the necessities of life) as just below $20,000, so less than $8,000 per year comes to as little as 37 per cent of the poverty line.
Some of you right now may be saying, so what. Many of us have stable employment, a safe place to call home and can afford to put food on the table every day. We think we are so far removed from needing to these types of support, but the reality is the majority of the new social assistance cases were filed for single individuals. It’s clear evidence that this downturn impacted Calgary and Albertans differently than before. It became even clearer that there is no single type of person who is impacted by poverty, it can happen to anyone for any reason at any time.
The reality is that no person can thrive or plan to move forward to more positive outcomes when their core benefits are $627/month. What’s even more troubling about this for us as a women serving organization is that single mothers with young children make up 59 per cent of those experiencing poverty.
The face of poverty is a woman’s face and when women live in poverty, so do their children.
Increasing social assistance rates and tying more regular bumps to the rate of inflation puts a little more money in the pockets of the most vulnerable in our community. It will create better health outcomes with decades of research indicating the strong impact of income on health at all ages, fewer members of our community will go hungry and there will be a reduction in cost to our health care system. It creates an opportunity for them to go beyond meeting their most basic needs and participate in society.
At the end of the day, no one should ever have to choose between a roof over their head or food on the table.