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Report on the Budget 2019 Consultation Released

Every autumn, the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services receives input from British Columbians on issues affecting them and what the priorities should be for the next budget. For multiple years in a row, this bipartisan committee recommended a provincial poverty reduction plan, but for many years this recommendation was ignored. Now this year, we are already expecting a poverty reduction plan in the upcoming budget, so the focus of our submission was about what the content of the plan should be. The budget committee has listened and compiled their report including a recommendation to raise income and disability rates and eliminating the clawback of CPP benefits. The BC Poverty Reduction Coalition was referenced several times in the report which we’ve compiled in the excerpts below:

Budgetary Policy

The Committee also received recommendations from several organizations on adopting policies and orienting the budget with the aim of reducing inequality. The Public Health Association of BC explained that inequality leads to problems with health and well-being, increased crime and the need for police and court resources, and the erosion of democracy and potential for unrest. The Association, along with the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition, the Social Planning & Research Council of British Columbia and CUPE BC Division, recommended looking for opportunities to make the tax system fairer. p. 29

Affordable and Social Housing

The Committee heard from a broad cross-section of organizations on the need for more investments in affordable and social housing. Several organizations, including the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce, Association of Service Providers for Employability & Career Training, Retail Council of Canada and Kamloops Symphony Society, explained that a lack of affordable housing is a barrier to employment, recruitment and retention. The BC Poverty Reduction Coalition noted the impact on poverty, highlighting that 45 percent of renters spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent, and one in five renters spend more than half of their income on rent. S.U.C.C.E.S.S. drew attention to challenges experienced by immigrant and refugee households who are more likely to be in need of more suitable housing, spend a higher proportion of their income on housing, and live in overcrowded conditions. p45

Rental Housing

The Committee received a number of recommendations to address challenges with the rental market, including insecurity, the increasing cost of rent, and low vacancy rates. To address affordability, the Metro Vancouver Alliance, the Public Health Association of BC and the Living Wage for Families Campaign proposed tying rent control to the unit rather than the tenant. The Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division suggested the opposite approach – that is of tying rent control to the person rather than the unit to provide for flexibility as an individual’s needs may change…The Council of Seniors Citizens’ Organizations of BC, the Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division and the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition shared the tenant perspective, emphasizing the need for stronger tenant protections and enforcement, particularly for individuals with mental health or substance abuse related issues. p 47

Employment Standards

The BC Federation of Labour, BC Building Trades and several other organizations recommended increased funding to the Employment Standards Branch and the Labour Relations Board. The Committee heard that increased funding would enable proactive enforcement, improve the application of employment standards, and ensure both bodies have the capacity to carry out their mandates. The BC Federation of Labour, BC Building Trades and the BC Employment Standards Coalition also recommended reviewing and updating the Employment Standards Act to reflect the changing nature of workplaces.
Committee Members also received recommendations specific to minimum wage. The BC Poverty Reduction Coalition suggested increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour and indexing it to the cost of inflation. The Coalition, along with the Living Wage for Families Campaign and the Social Planning & Research Council of British Columbia, further recommended all direct and contracted staff of the provincial government be provided a living wage.p 65

Income and Disability Assistance

A range of health and service organizations urged increases to income and disability assistance rates. The Poverty Reduction Coalition explained that current levels of assistance are insufficient to meet the cost of living, and are a leading cause of homelessness. AJ Brown, an individual who receives disability assistance, and her mother, Barbara Brown, highlighted this challenge in their presentations to the Committee on September 24. The Committee heard that after paying for subsidized rent, AJ is left with very little monthly income, and further, that the low earned income exemption threshold makes it difficult to get off of social assistance. In addition to improving disability assistance benefits and increasing the exemptions threshold, they also recommended Canada Pension Plan disability benefits be recognized as earned income, as these are currently clawed back.p 65

Poverty Reduction

The Committee heard from many health, education and social service organizations about prioritizing poverty reduction, including ensuring any strategy is comprehensive, accountable, fully-funded and implemented across relevant ministries. The Social Planning & Research Council of British Columbia specifically referenced the importance of consulting and collaborating with Indigenous communities and organizations on the development of a poverty reduction strategy. Submissions described addressing poverty reduction as an economic investment. Socioeconomic inequities increase health costs, and lead to increased use of police and court resources. Investing in poverty reduction costs less when these consequences, along with lost tax revenue, are taken into account… The BC Poverty Reduction Coalition recommended requiring all ministries to apply a poverty and inequality lens when considering changes to policies, programs and services. p 66

Public Transit

The Committee received a number of recommendations with respect to affordable public transit and expanding transit networks. The Association of Service Providers for Employability & Career Training indicated that a lack of access to transit is a barrier to employment, while the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade suggested that expanding the transit network will open up more housing options for many British Columbians. First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition, the Metro Vancouver Alliance, and the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition shared that families around the province, especially low-income families with children, find public transportation inaccessible. This lack of access prevents them from reaching doctor appointments and public services or attending school or job interviews. The organizations recommended working with local governments and transit authorities to provide free public transit for minors until the age of 18, and free or reduced transit access for low-income families. They noted that this would also support work that is being done to decrease poverty, and expand housing and employment options for low-income families who are struggling to access transportation. p 75