Roughly a dozen people, mostly with disabilities, gathered outside a Burnaby welfare office Wednesday, demanding the government increase their monthly benefit payments.
"We're fed up being treated like a bunch of beggars. We're angry and we're not going to be silent any longer," said New Westminster resident Tom Page, spokesperson for ACORN, a social justice organization. ACORN's disability rights group was holding the demonstration on Wednesday morning on the corner of Kingsway and McKay Avenue near Metrotown.
According to Page, people receiving disability benefits from the government live in "abject extreme poverty" receiving only $906 a month (which translates to $10,872 annually), while Albertans receive $1,588.
"B.C. has one of the highest costs of living in Canada, but the disability rates have fallen to sixth place," Page told the crowd through a megaphone.
Page also bemoaned the difficulties and wait-times to get on disability and the fact that benefits are not retroactive to the date of application.
ACORN wants the disability rates raised to $1,200 immediately, followed by a study to come up with a livable rate that's indexed for inflation. According to Page, who's on disability, the government hasn't increased the rates since 2007.
"They have money to increase their own salaries," he said.
The group plans to target one welfare office a month, in an attempt to put pressure on government to meet their demands.
The NOW contacted the Social Development Ministry, inquiring if the disability rates were going to rise soon and how people on disability were expected to get with the high cost of living in B.C. Social Development Minister Moira Stilwell was in meetings and not available for an interview but sent the NOW an email in response.
"I understand that people living with a disability face unique, complex challenges. However, when setting assistance rates, governments are obligated to take a balanced approach between what is fair to individuals seeking assistance and what taxpayers can support," she said. "On Oct. 1, we are making some changes to our policies that will assist individuals with disabilities to lead more independent lives. Creating a better life for people with disabilities is about finding a balance between providing supports to take care of daily needs and finding ways to encourage the greatest level of independence possible."
Stilwell said B.C. has a good record when it comes to support for people with disabilities, and the province is home to some of the most comprehensive supports for people with disabilities in Canada.
"However, we also understand that there is always room for improvement," she said.