With Family Day and Valentine’s Day behind us, let’s turn our attention to those people who are unseen and uncared for on those holidays and ask ourselves what happens when you are a single adult in British Columbia experiencing poverty? (Also featured in The Province)
Imagine Jane, a 43-year-old single woman who works in the food court at the local mall. Last year, Jane was barely able to make ends meet on a minimum wage of $10.45 per hour. This year, the increase to energy rates and the rising cost of food make Jane worried that she will be unable to make rent. Having lost contact with her family about 10 years ago, she has no support network to fall back on.
Jane sits at a public library computer searching for help but none comes. A social housing application highlights that “the demand for subsidized housing far exceeds the available supply. As a result, it is not possible to predict when a unit may come available.” And the government’s Rental Assistance Program, which provides market rental support, only helps working families, leaving Jane and so many others throughout B.C. without support.
One in three single adults live in poverty, according to the most conservative poverty measure of Statistics Canada, making them some of the hardest hit in B.C. Further breakdown reveals that women bear the brunt: 39 per cent of single adult women and 31 per cent of single adult men fall below the poverty line in B.C. We know that the poorest individuals also have the poorest health outcomes, at huge personal cost but also huge social expense. Poverty related health costs add up to $1.2 billion per year.
With the minimum wage at $10.45 per hour (now the second lowest in Canada), a single adult working full time makes $17,834 (after taxes), under the poverty line of $19,774.
These are people who work hard every day, contribute to the labour market, pay taxes and give their time in their communities. For such hard work, many are unable to afford the adequate necessities of food and shelter. Living paycheque to paycheque, an illness, work accident, personal crisis or downturn in the economy leaves many turning to our social safety net as a last resort but that net is in tatters.
Within B.C.’s income-assistance program, welfare rates have been frozen since 2007 at the deeply inadequate rate of $610 per month for a single person. In a province that has high market rents and food costs, a single adult cannot pay for housing, transportation and food, let alone other basic necessities, for $610 a month.
A major path to homelessness is having to pay more than 50 per cent of income on housing. Welfare’s shelter maximum is $375 per month, 61.5 per cent of a single adult’s total assistance of $610 per month, is nowhere near what it costs to rent an apartment in B.C.
To qualify for welfare, a single adult must now complete an online application. However, the application is a major barrier because of lack of Internet availability, time constraints on public computers, not having the necessary computer skills or not having the needed supports to complete the application. In addition, the applicant must not have more than $2,000 cash or own a vehicle worth more than $10,000. Barriers to the only available economic support for poor single adults creates extreme hardship.
The minimal increase to disability benefits of $77 included in last week’s B.C. budget, along with a cut to transit subsidies amounted to very little real increase and will make no meaningful difference to those living with disabilities.
With overpowering evidence that poverty increases the risk of poor health outcomes for single adults, it seems obvious that if British Columbians work toward eliminating poverty we would see improvements in health outcomes, not only for single adults but for all.
And yet, B.C. remains the only province not to have a poverty reduction plan. Much more support is needed for single adults in B.C. We need to demand accountability from our government because it is their responsibility to do better.
Jane’s life is in their hands.