By Trish Garner, The Province
Originally published here.
In last week’s budget, the provincial government continued to ignore the crisis of poverty and inequality in B.C. In fact, if you search for “poverty” in the budget document, there is not a single mention of the issue, despite B.C. having the second-highest poverty rate in Canada, with one in five children living in poverty.
The plight of almost 600,000 British Columbians is overlooked once again.
So what did the government “give back” in its “giving-back” budget?
A meagre $50 a month to people with disabilities. In monetary terms, this simply restores the bus-pass amount clawed back last year when there was a shift from the annual program of $45 per year to $52 a month. However, my guess is that we will continue to see people with disabilities giving up their bus pass in favour of the small increase and we will all lose through the exclusion of people with disabilities from our communities.
Almost two-thirds of those on income assistance in B.C. are people with disabilities and they’ll likely spend their lives on these deeply inadequate disability rates. This isn’t a gift but a lifetime of poverty.
For those on basic welfare, there wasn’t even a token gift. Those struggling to survive on $610 per month get nothing, despite the rate being frozen for a decade. And we all know how much the cost of living has increased in that time as unaffordability becomes the rallying cry throughout B.C.
If the government truly expects people on welfare to transition back to employment, as they say in their response to this rate freeze, the best way to help would be to raise the rates. Welfare is a life of daily survival — often hours spent lining up for food, shelter, showers and other basic needs — not putting your best foot forward and heading out to job interviews. It’s hard to imagine bouncing back — perhaps from illness, workplace accident or domestic abuse — when you’re plunged into such deep poverty through our broken social-safety net.
As for the other “gifts” from the government, don’t be distracted by the glitter of the Medical Services Plan fee cut. This is a step in the right direction toward restoring tax fairness, and the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition is thrilled to see a commitment to eliminate MSP premiums in future. This is a move that we, and many of our member groups, have been advocating for as it’s the most unfair tax, hitting middle- and modest-income people much harder.
But the MSP cut changes nothing for the poor, who were exempt.
And we need to keep sight of what we have lost through this so-called gift — nearly $1 billion in revenue, money that could have been invested in actually tackling poverty. The province could have made our tax system fairer without decimating our public purse by offsetting the MSP cut with tax increases for upper-income people and corporations.
Strikingly, there were no new investments in addressing the affordability of housing and child care, the two biggest costs facing families. And our public education and health-care systems continue to get short shrift, despite government’s claims. The amounts announced in the budget don’t make up for years of underfunding.
With the MSP cut, the government is now telling us that they’re listening. Well, if they were really listening, they would have acted on the long-standing recommendations of their own finance committee to launch a comprehensive poverty-reduction plan, to increase welfare rates, to provide affordable housing and universal child care, and to adequately fund education and health care.
Simply put, this budget gives Band-Aids, not long-term security.
The next couple of months leading up to the provincial election May 9 offer a chance to ask our candidates to truly listen to the needs of British Columbians and to tell us how they will tackle the issues of poverty and affordability through a collective vision that leaves no one behind.