A Surrey MLA will be living on the equivalent of welfare for the month of January, as part of a challenge from a group called Raise the Rates.
Brar, the NDP MLA for Surrey-Fleetwood, was challenged by the group on May 25 to try living on $610 for the month of January, the same amount from social services provided to people who are expected to look for work.
Brar remained unsure about it for months until his 12-year-old daughter Noor said to him, “do it, and make a difference.”
He admits being fearful for his health and safety.
“I am, and my wife and my kids are concerned about my health as well,” Brar said. “I am a national basketball player, I consider myself in good shape physically… so I hope I can go through this without any major challenges to my health.”
When asked, he said he would not be carrying credit cards.
Part of the Raise the Rates challenge is that out of the $610, he must spend $450 on rent, $25 on a cellphone and buy a bus pass.
The normal social services housing allowance is $375 per month, but Bill Hopwood with Raise the Rates said it’s nearly impossible to find something for that price.
Like clients, Brar also must be able to look for work, which requires a bus pass and cellphone.
It will leave him with $4 a day for food.
He has been told by Raise the Rates that he can go home once a week to stay overnight, but Brar doesn’t know if he’ll take them up on that offer.
He will visit the food bank, but the food will be provided by Raise the Rates, so that Brar’s presence there doesn’t have an impact on food for others.
He has no expectations as to what he’ll learn from the experience.
“At this point in time, I don’t know how this experience is going to shape my life and how I am going to go through the whole month,” Brar said.
Over the month, he will meet with people who are living on welfare, both in Surrey and Vancouver.
The challenge comes 25 years after NDP MLA Emery Barnes lived on a fixed income of $350 for a month in the Vancouver Downtown Eastside.
His daughter Constance Barnes said he spoke often of his month living on the eastside.
“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,” she said. “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.”
Brar said he’s spoken with one of his colleagues who once fell on hard times. She told him to expect an extremely tough time.
Surrey-Panorama Liberal MLA Stephanie Cadieux, B.C.’s minister for social development, acknowledged Brar has a tough go ahead of him, but not as difficult as people who are actually on welfare.
Typically, a person would have to go through a three-week job search before receiving welfare, Cadieux noted, whereas Brar will receive his stipend right away.
Cadieux said welfare is just one of many government services provided to people between jobs, including a host of job search programs, child care subsidies, seniors’ benefits, assisted housing and medical benefits.
“The reality is I don’t think there are many people in our society that would like to try and live on $610 a month,” Cadieux said. “But what we always have to remember is that it’s the intention that it be a very temporary form of support. It’s much better to be working.”