Mar 21, 2024

Evaluating BC Budget 2024’s commitments to racial equity

By Profile paper silhouettes of people in different skin tones

Poverty reduction is a crucial element to advancing racial equity in BC, but the province’s recently announced new targets for reducing overall poverty are insufficiently ambitious and lack the urgency needed to effect meaningful change. An examination of BC budget 2024’s allocations and priorities reveals a disconnect between avowed commitments to racial equity and the actual financial commitments necessary to bring these pledges to fruition. 

In an economic downturn like the one we’re facing now, households with lower levels of wealth, income and job security are more vulnerable to financial strains. Colonialism and systemic racism have led to Indigenous, racialized and immigrant communities disproportionately represented among those in BC experiencing financial insecurity, low income and job precarity.  

Our research finds that racialized women, Indigenous women and recent immigrants in BC are more likely to have non-standard employment, which correlates with lower earnings, fewer benefits and job insecurity. Statistics Canada data show that the prevalence of low income in BC is higher for Indigenous people (20% vs 13% compared to non-Indigenous people), racialized people (16% vs 12% for non-racialized people) and recent immigrants (16% vs 12% for non-immigrants). These disparities extend to housing affordability, with 31% of recent immigrants and 42% of non-permanent residents  in unaffordable housing compared with 19% of non-immigrants and 28% of racialized people compared with 18% of white people. 

Low income, job precarity and unaffordable housing are all barriers to building wealth and we see the impacts of these factors persist across generations. Because the buffer that income and wealth provide against economic shocks is unevenly distributed, the provincial budget must provide security to those who need it most. 

Underfunding racial equity

In the budget speech, the government signalled that Budget 2024 would fund equitable access to decent homes, quality healthcare and social services and alleviate households’ struggles to meet everyday costs, all fundamental steps towards reducing inequality. But the budget doesn’t allocate sufficient funds to fulfil these promises.

As we outlined in our response to the BC budget, we are happy the government resisted pressures for austerity coming from the business sector and the conservative bench. Austerity measures, characterized by cutbacks in public services, exacerbate economic slowdowns by taking money out of the economy. They disproportionately affect marginalized communities, deepen existing racial inequalities and undermine systemic racism as a critical policy concern. 

However, while operational and capital spending in some ministries has increased, the budget falls short in introducing sufficient new public spending required to effectively tackle the uneven distribution of the affordability crisis.

The government points to initiatives like the Family Benefit bonus and the Electricity Affordability Credit as key parts of their racial equity strategy, but while these are welcome cost-savings for many households in need they are modest one-time measures. Overall the 2024 budget stays the course of funding commitments made in previous budgets, commitments which while important advancements, were already falling short. 

The budget falls short in public spending required to tackle the uneven distribution of the affordability crisis.

Some key poverty reduction recommendations from the 2024 budget consultation could have gone a long way towards bringing the budget in line with the government’s stated equity goals. Considering the stark over representation of Indigenous people in BC’s unhoused population, notably absent is a significant boost in funding for permanent shelter services and comprehensive support for transitioning to stable housing. In BC Housing’s 2023 homeless count, 33% of respondents in the greater Metro Vancouver area for example identified as Indigenous compared with only 2% of census population.

The province recently announced that amendments are forthcoming for the Employment and Assistance Act and the Disabilities Act that will improve access to jobs for people on assistance. While this is a welcome measure, it is not far reaching enough to ensure that no one is living in poverty in a province with so much wealth. Income and disability assistance rates need to be drastically raised to ensure all recipients are living above the poverty line and access needs to be expanded by increasing the earning exemption threshold and reforming the spousal cap. There is a drastic gap between the approximately $1400 per month people receive for disability assistance and the $2300 per month poverty line for Metro Vancouver. That gap widens even further when compared to the $3600 per month living wage.  

For seniors, the Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters subsidy of $873 remains far below actual rental costs in the province. The Vancouver Sun estimates the average one-bedroom apartment in Vancouver has reached $3000 a month; the average rental cost of a one bedroom listed in Vancouver on Zumper is $2700. Funding for rental supports need to better keep pace with housing costs. The outsized spending on supports for homeowners over renters—by a factor of three—only exacerbates existing wealth disparities, especially given that the new spending on BC Builds is a delayed funding commitment for old promises and remains a fraction of what it needs to be to bring affordable housing to low-income families

Income and disability assistance rates need to be drastically raised to ensure all recipients are living above the poverty line. 

For multigenerational families without the wealth to support their ageing family members, the new investment of $354 million over three years for home and community care for seniors is a welcome first step but much more is needed. The dearth of promised $10-a day child care spots will continue to be a strain for those with young children. 

At the same time, the province depends on international migrants, particularly non-permanent residents, to do the work required to deliver its promises around housing, senior care and child care where we have critical labour shortages. Yet the 2024 BC budget lacks dedicated investment to support these groups that often find themselves in precarious living and working conditions.

Increased funding for better wages in health care and early childhood education can ensure everyone receives fair pay regardless of their status, and increased operational funding for worker and settlement supports would go a long way to prevent exploitation. Without adequate support for newcomers, the province risks exacerbating social inequalities and overlooking their substantial contribution to our economy and social fabric.

Equitable solutions 

Over the last five years, the BC government has boosted spending in critical areas like housing, healthcare and social services, all of which could mitigate racial inequality. However, for these investments to meaningfully impact equity, they must align with the cost of living and keep pace with population growth. 

Racial equity requires the redistribution of income and wealth, yet redistribution mechanisms  remain under-utilized in BC. Revenue generation isn’t the only reason to tax wealth and income, reducing extreme inequalities is an important goal on its own. The province not only has the capacity to raise taxes on the wealthy and large corporations to fund these equity demands without being an outlier among the provinces, but ought to be raising taxes to prevent the levels of extreme inequality we’ve reached. 

As we wait for the BC government to detail their plans for poverty reduction and anti-racism, the 2024 budget shows little promise on progress for racial equity. It is not enough to resist austerity—through comprehensive public investment and just taxation—British Columbia can chart a course towards a future where security is not just a privilege of the few but a universal guarantee.

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