Poverty Challenge – an important reminder


KENORA – leaders Ledger – This week I am participating in a Poverty Challenge, organized by Making Kenora Home, a group that advocates on behalf of the homeless in Kenora.

The purpose of the challenge is to raise awareness of the difficulties of living a balanced and healthy life on social assistance rates. I want to share my experiences so far with you.

Once rent is paid, those receiving social assistance have $52 per week to live on. This includes paying for items such as transportation, entertainment, clothing and personal hygiene items.

After a considerable amount of time working out a budget I spent $51.85 on food and toiletries. In order to keep under budget, I had to travel to three different stores, a luxury someone on social assistance would not have. While I tried to keep my menu healthy, the truth is my limited budget didn’t allow for complete meals. I’ve been relying on peanut butter and jam sandwiches and an orange for lunch and seven servings of the same casserole for dinner, in addition to a modest breakfast of yogurt, toast and an orange.

When I was in university, I had to live off of a modest budget and thought this knowledge and experience would make this challenge easier. Since undertaking this challenge I’ve determined three important distinctions between my time as a student and those living off of social assistance: 1) despite having a very meager budget for food as a student, I was still in a much better position than a person living off of social assistance; 2) the price of food has drastically gone up in the six years since I was a student, but the social assistance rates have not risen at the same rate; and 3) there is a huge difference between having to live in poverty for a defined period of time, as I have, and living on social assistance rates. When I was in university there was hope. I knew I was working towards something, and I knew that if I fell into desperation additional supports were available, such as family, friends and emergency funding programs at the school. Living on social assistance really is living in desperation. Instead of focusing on making their lives better, recipients are forced to focus on simply surviving day-to-day.

While I am not suggesting that everyone should go out and try to live off of $52 for a week, I think it is important to remember that people turn to social assistance only as a last resort and that trying to subsist on the meager rates is far from glamourous.

If you want to read about my daily experiences with this challenge, visit www.SarahCampbellMPP.blogspot.com.

Sarah Campbell, MPP Kenora-Rainy River

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Sarah Campbell is a Canadian politician, who was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario in the 2011 election. She represents the electoral district of Kenora—Rainy River as a member of the Ontario New Democratic Party caucus