03/18/2013 12:22 EDT | Updated 05/18/2013 05:12 EDT

Manitoba Opposition says welfare recipients need more rent help

WINNIPEG - Manitoba's Opposition party is calling for an increase in the rental allowance for welfare recipients.

Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister says if he were premier, he would raise the housing allowance portion of monthly cheques to 75 per cent of the median market rent.

Pallister says that would work out to about $385 a month for a single person in a bachelor apartment — $100 higher than the current level.

Poverty rights groups have long campaigned for an increase in welfare rental allowances, which have not kept up with inflation.

Pallister says his plan would cost the province $18 million a year, but would also save money by improving people's health.

The NDP government said Monday it has increased other benefits for low-income earners, some of which they can continue to claim if they move off welfare and into the workforce.

"We have training and education benefits, as well as child-care benefits. In addition to that, we've also enhanced rent supplements through rent aid and rent geared to income," said Kerri Irvin-Ross, minister for housing and community development.

"So that provides a step up, rather then keeping people down."

Pallister said there is no reason why the basic housing allowance should not be raised for all recipients.

"Government revenues under the NDP are up about 74 per cent since 2000, yet the housing allowance for some of Manitoba's most vulnerable people has been static."

The Tories said their formula would mean different increases for recipients, based on the size of their apartment.

Someone in a one-bedroom apartment would see their housing allowance increase by more than $100 to $499 a month. For a two-bedroom apartment, the allowance would jump by $200 to $668, the party said.