photos: Photo courtesy of B.C. government

B.C. budget an insult to province’s poor

The recently released provincial budget did little to alleviate the pressures faced by 67,000 British Columbians relying on welfare

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Last month’s provincial budget was a blow to British Columbia’s low-income residents and marked a new low in the BC Liberals’ treatment of marginalized people.

With income assistance rates inexplicably frozen since 2007, the government finally heeded calls to increase the monthly persons with disability assistance rate—by a paltry $77 a month (raising the amount to $983 a month). It didn’t see fit to increase the miniscule $610 monthly welfare rate that more than 67,000 other British Columbians live on.

However, unsatisfied with handing out a few crumbs to those who struggle with physical and mental health challenges, the government also cut the subsidized bus pass and special transportation subsidy many people with disabilities rely on. What one hand giveth, the other taketh away.

This is at a time when housing and food costs continue to soar across B.C., and when the province has enough of a budget surplus to squirrel away $100 million into a vague “prosperity fund.”

The government justified the bus pass cancellation by claiming some people were selling their pass for a discount. While not all of the 112,000 people on disability assistance received the transit subsidy, the roughly 55,000 who did will see their monthly assistance rate go up by just $11 or $21.25 (depending on their classification).

Without a hint of irony, Finance Minister Mike de Jong said of the move: “This won’t eliminate the challenges those living with disabilities face, and it won’t suddenly make life easier, but we hope it will make life a little less hard.”

Isn’t the provincial government supposed to work on reducing the challenges people living with disabilities face, instead of adding to them?

With just $983 to live on each month, those on disability who live in expensive cities like Vancouver and Victoria will simply look at transit as a luxury they can’t afford—furthering their isolation.

While the BC Liberals toy with income assistance, they have yet to tackle the province’s housing crisis. Premier Christy Clark announced last month that the province will spend $355 million over five years to build 2,000 social housing units, but 400 units a year spread across B.C. will only scratch the surface of demand. Vancouver alone needs 1,000 units a year—immediately.

It’s possible the BC Liberals are waiting for the 2017 budget to start spending on the province’s poor, hoping to ride some goodwill into next year’s election. If that’s the case, they’re playing politics with vulnerable people’s lives.

But I suspect things are going to reach a tipping point before then. The transit cut has left a lot of people angry, and community groups are now organizing to get it reinstated—they’ll have widespread support.

With the BC Liberals doing the bare minimum around the affordable housing crisis, while insulting people on disability and welfare, people in this province are losing patience. And the BC Liberals are running out of time.

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