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“We need to ally together to end the poverty and discrimination that we face everyday so we can eat.” That’s what Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction president Tracey Morrison told a crowd of about 200 at a rally today to call for higher welfare and disability rates and to restore the bus pass.
Today marks 9 years since welfare rates, frozen at $610 a month for a single person, have gone up. Although the province plans to increase disability rates by $77 a month in September, they also plan to begin charging people who receive the disability pension $669 a year for a bus pass that they now get for $45 a year. This giving with one hand and taking with the other has enraged many people who have to live on meagre benefits, and their supporters.
Marchers gathered at Carnegie Centre at Main and Hastings and heard from Victoria Bull, who survives on a disability pension. “Its tiresome to have to go to all the line-ups and have all those people looking down on us,” she said, referring to the fact that people with disabilities don’t get enough money to survive without going to charitable food lines.
“Things have to change in a drastic way,” added Harold Lavender after the group had marched down Main St. to Thornton Park to rally and hear speeches. “It is a total injustice that people have to live on a starvation income.”
Tom Page of ACORN called on everyone to know their rights, share a vision, and take action.
Kevin Yake of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users urged everyone to “make 2016 a really good year for activism and fighting for our rights.”
A representative of the BC Federation of Labour came to show solidarity with the struggle for higher welfare rates. “The Fight for $15 is in solidarity with the struggle,” said Denise Moffat of the Fed. “Nine years is too long for people to wait for an increase.”
People on welfare don’t cause people with low wages to have low wages and people with wages don’t cause welfare to be low, said Bill Hopwood of Raise the Rates, noting that we all have to be unified in fighting the government to make poverty ending changes.
Neil Self of Positive Living BC called on the government to raise disability rates to the level in Alberta, over $1500 a month. “People shouldn’t have to choose between housing, food and health care,” he added.
Vancouver East MP, Jenny Kwan, called for national and provincial strategies to end poverty beginning with “raising the rates.”
“It’s important to build bridges between the communities that the government wants to divide,” said Hopwood before introducing James Pau who spoke to the group in both English and Cantonese.
John Skulch then spoke to the group in Gitskan.
“We have a right to nutritious food,” added Colleen Boudreau. “This shouldn’t be about charity.”
“We are people not just animals,” said Fraser Doke, a man on disability who has HIV and had a liver transplant.
Doke’s comment revealed what a lot of folks who depend on welfare and disability think. The people in government who set welfare rates must think that poor people and people with disabilities are less than human.
At the end of the rally people had hot dogs and juice (thanks to Bill Beauregarde and the Aboriginal Front Door) and talked about how beautiful the day was and how good it was that more and more groups are getting involved in the fight for higher welfare.