BC Budget 2017, the provincial government continues to ignore the
crisis of poverty and inequality in BC. In fact, if you search for
“poverty” in the budget document, there is not one single mention of
this issue, despite BC having the second highest poverty rate in
Canada and 1 in 5 children living in poverty in BC. The plight of
almost 600,000 people in BC is overlooked once again.
So what did the government “give
A meagre 50 dollars 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 a monthly charge of $52 per month. However, my guess is that we
will continue to see people with disabilities give 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 BC are people
with disabilities (PWD) and they will likely spend their lives on
these deeply inadequate PWD rates. This is not a gift but a lifetime
For those on basic welfare, there was not even a token gift. Those
struggling to survive on $610 per month get nothing, despite the
rate being frozen for a decade now. And we all know how much the
cost of living has increased in that time as unaffordability becomes
the rallying cry throughout BC.
If the government truly expects people on welfare to transition back
into employment as they say in their response to this rate freezing,
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 a health issue, workplace accident or domestic
abuse situation – when you are 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 MSP premium cut. This is a step in the right
direction toward restoring tax fairness, and we are thrilled to see
a commitment to eliminate MSP premiums in the 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
But the MSP cut changes nothing for the poor, who were already
exempt from MSP.
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 really tackling poverty. The provincial government
could have made our tax system fairer without decimating our public
purse (by off-setting 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 childcare, the two biggest costs facing
families across BC. And our public education and health care
continue to get short shrift, despite government’s claims to the
contrary. The amounts announced in this 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 recommendations from their own Finance Committee for
many years now: launch a comprehensive poverty reduction plan;
increase welfare rates; provide affordable housing and universal
child care; and 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 our provincial election on
May 9 offer an opportunity to ask our candidates to truly listen to
the needs of British Columbians, and tell us how they will tackle
the issues of poverty and affordability through a collective vision
that leaves no-one behind.
Trish Garner is the Community Organizer of the BC Poverty
BC Poverty Reduction Coalition
aims to see the introduction of a bold and comprehensive poverty
reduction plan from the government of British Columbia that would
include legislated targets and timelines to significantly reduce
poverty, inequality and homelessness.
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