COLUMN: B.C. offers no real help for the poor

True prosperity only exists when every person in society has opportunities.

The 2016 provincial budget was introduced last month. While it detailed some positive efforts to provide financial support to important areas, there was an opportunity for the budget to have done more to address social issues.

True prosperity only exists when every person in society has opportunities. Only then can innovation and long-term success be achieved. The budget could also have experimented with initiatives like a basic income guarantee pilot project.

Many British Columbians who live paycheque to paycheque are not seeing prosperity. Unlike elected officials, most British Columbians are not earning six-figure salaries or spending taxpayers’ money on private planes. The premier spent more than $500 000 on private flights in the last five years, information obtained by journalist Bob Mackin under the Freedom of Information Act.

According to Canada without Poverty’s 2015 Poverty Progress Profile on B.C., 469,000 British Columbians live in poverty. Thousands of British Columbians are homeless. Funding for affordable housing units and further financial support to help youth in care, introduced in this year’s budget, is a step in the right direction. However, our province should also introduce a much-needed and long-overdue poverty reduction plan.

Researcher and economist Iglika Ivanova, of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, notes potential areas where the budget could have been improved. These include an increase in the minimum wage and a better child care plan. She notes while steps in the right direction were taken in the budget, such as funding for child care centres and a farmers’ tax credit for food donations, further measures could have been introduced, for example, creating a $10-a-day child care program.

The minimum wage in B.C. is simply not in step with the high cost of living.

Under the 2016 budget, people with disabilities wishing to use bus service will have to pay a $52 monthly bus pass fee, in addition to a $45 yearly fee, starting in September. Previously, they did not pay any monthly fees, rather just the yearly fee. According to Inclusion B.C., the monthly disability benefits are insufficient to meet the high cost of living. The costs of rental housing, transportation and food have seen significant increases over the years.

While the government increased disability benefits by $77 per month in this budget, the bus pass fee means the increase for people using the pass will only add $25 more, leading to a total of $931 per month. The organization notes B.C.’s monthly benefit for the disabled lags behind some other provinces, and prior to this small increase, the government had not increased the benefit amount in nine years.

The government should not impose the monthly bus pass fee. There also needs to be an increase in the monthly disability benefits, so people with a disability are not facing a financial burden.

Japreet Lehal is a Simon Fraser University graduate pursing a law degree. He writes regularly for The Leader.

 

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