Budget season can’t overlook those with the biggest need

Opinion: We all pay the price when budgets become electoral tools instead of looking out for all members of society — including unrealized potential and lost social and economic contributions.

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It’s budget season in Canada, and B.C. helped kick us off.

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B.C. Budget 2024 is one other provinces should pay attention to, for good and bad.

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On one hand, the budget and immediately preceding measures won praise for supporting hospital workers, while substantial investments were also made to fight a housing crisis that has spiralled out of control.

The budget also increased funds for seniors to receive home support — an important step toward helping older Canadians thrive where research shows they are happiest and healthiest: in their communities rather than institutions.

B.C.’s budget checked many of the right boxes with a provincial election approaching in 2024: issues resonating broadly with the middle class and those most likely to vote.

And to be fair, a good budget should make those a priority.

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But there were conspicuous absences too.

B.C.’s social assistance rates, which are far below Canada’s poverty line, received no boost despite years of being described as woefully inadequate by advocates.

There was so little included for the lowest-income British Columbians that the “learn-more” link on the disability and income assistance section of the budget website had to be filled with an unrelated 2022 news release.

What good is more housing for people who can’t afford it?

While the budget made investments in Community Living B.C., a Crown corporation funding important supports for adults with developmental disabilities, investments were lacking for younger British Columbians with complex needs at a time when exclusion is increasing across the province.

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What funding was announced will not go toward promised service enhancements, such as for children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders or Down syndrome, but to addressing high caseloads and wage increases for case workers. Those are positive steps, but on their own fall far short of the transformative investments and programs required in an underdeveloped system — one that needs bolder measures to get to where it should be.

B.C. Budget 2024 also failed to offer new paths to justice for poor British Columbians navigating the family law system, who receive no legal aid when trying to access support to feed and clothe their children.

With B.C. done, attention now turns elsewhere.

In the coming weeks and months many other provinces, including Ontario, Saskatchewan and Manitoba will release their budgets.

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And they’re just as far behind.

Like B.C., every other province’s social assistance rates fall well below the poverty line, and unemployment grew over the last year. This has contributed to nearly 20 per cent of disabled Canadians living in poverty and one-in-five households experiencing food insecurity, rising to nearly two-in-five for Indigenous and Black households.

Poverty and food insecurity lead to poor health outcomes, weighing down the health-care system and contributing to the health-care woes impacting Canadians generally.

Health care in all provinces has been plagued by a depleted workforce and growing demand, with only 30 per cent of Canadians stating their province is handling the health-care system well, a 15 per cent decrease since 2015.

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And across Canada, families raising children with special needs are left on their own, unable to access critical supports as their kids are set up for far worse social, economic and health outcomes than need be.

It goes on-and-on — at great cost: unrealized potential, lost social and economic contributions, less inclusive societies and the accumulation of expenses incurred systemwide.

While many budget decisions have likely already been made, whatever considerations remain must account not only for what ticks the most boxes with the middle-class electorate, but also for the communities with the greatest need — going beyond damage mitigation and ambitiously stepping forward to fix problems at their core.

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As U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt said nearly a century ago in his inaugural presidential address, progress isn’t adding more to the abundance of those who have much, but providing enough for those who have too little.

Without looking out for all members of society, governments are failing to build truly inclusive communities, and we are all paying the price for it.

Spencer van Vloten is a nationally published writer and community advocate from Vancouver. You can find more of his work at SpencerV.ca or follow him on X at @SpencerVanCity.

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reference: theprovince.com

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