As noted in many recent newspaper articles and editorials, posts on this blog, and social media posts, BC’s 2016 budget reflected the short-sighted and unnecessary priority of the current government to pay down debt and “balance” the budget over meeting the pressing needs of British Columbians, particularly those with developmental, financial and social vulnerabilities.
This year’s budget once again ignored the repeated recommendations in the report of the Legislature’s Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services, and in submissions from First Call and other groups, about the need to address a long list of urgent issues facing BC children, youth and families:
- The high levels of poverty crisis,
- The child care affordability and availability crisis,
- The long-term under-investment in early childhood crisis,
- The housing affordability and homelessness crisis,
- The income and disability assistance rates inadequacy crisis,
- The chronic under-funding of both K-12 and post-secondary public education crisis,
- The growing student and young family debt crisis,
- The child protection, youth mental health and family support services under-funding crisis,
- The over-representation of Aboriginal children in care crisis,
- The children waiting for therapies crisis … and more.
The harmful impacts of allowing all these crises to continue when we could be doing something about them are unacceptable in human terms, destructive in social terms and counter-productive in economic terms.
With the money set aside in various contingency and “prosperity” funds, and the additional revenue that could be raised with a more progressive and equitable tax system, we could be creating a more compassionate, healthy, safe and just society in which all our children could thrive and contribute to their fullest.
We could also be saving a lot of money on health, education, social services and criminal justice costs. The poverty crisis alone is the source of many of these additional costs we are already paying for.
Other provinces have adopted smarter, more generous child benefit plans that are bringing down their child and family poverty rates. BC’s Early Childhood Benefit offers a maximum benefit of $660 per year, only for children under 6. Contrast this with Ontario’s and Quebec’s benefits which apply to children until they turn 18 and are double or more than triple the BC maximum.
Yet, despite these ready examples of a more wholesome policy meal, in this budget the BC government is again choosing to offer only crumbs or an empty bowl to families with children who are struggling to get by in a high-cost environment on poverty level wages, precarious work or criminally low government assistance rates.
“Balanced” budgets that create huge, long-term costs are smoke and mirrors. And irresponsible.