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Comment: Budget disappoints advocates for social services

The provincial budget is disappointing for those of us who believe it’s both pragmatic and morally right to help British Columbians when they need it.

The provincial budget is disappointing for those of us who believe it’s both pragmatic and morally right to help British Columbians when they need it.

The community social-services sector provides that help, for children, families, seniors and anyone who needs support. We’ve been struggling to do what’s needed after more than 15 years of budget cuts and freezes, and hoped for some relief in this budget.

Instead, it will make things worse for many British Columbians.

Consider three examples. Community Living B.C., which supports individuals and families with developmental disabilities, is to receive a 1.2 per cent budget increase.

But CLBC forecasts a 4.9 per cent increase in the number of people needing services this year. The result is a 3.8 per cent cut in funding available for each client, with more reductions planned for the next two years.

The Ministry of Children and Family Development received a 1.1 per cent funding increase. That’s not enough to meet the increasing needs of children in care and families in crisis, or keep up with inflation. Budgets for child and youth mental-health services, child safety, family support and children in care are frozen.

The health budget for this year is $16.6 billion. That’s $200 million less than the government said would be needed just 12 months ago. We know that when the health-care system can’t meet demands, the community social-services sector carries the burden.

We’re taxpayers. Many of us have children, and don’t want them to face higher taxes in the future to pay for our decisions. But because we’re on the front lines, we also see the folly of cutting supports that people need.

It was just weeks ago that we read how badly the province had failed an 11-year-old boy who ended up being tasered in a group home. The lack of quality childhood intervention will almost certainly result in far higher costs in the future — and a much more difficult life for him.

It’s foolish to deny a senior the weekly supports that let her stay in her home. They cost a fraction of the expense of residential care and provide a richer life.

Governments can’t spend more than they receive in revenue year after year. The bills will come due.

But there is more than one kind of deficit.

If governments don’t fund needed supports to children, families, seniors or people with disabilities, the result will be higher costs in the future. Those bills will also come due.

The haste to meet an arbitrary balanced-budget deadline has resulted in decisions that will hurt thousands of families as well as the future of the province.

As a community, we need to rethink our priorities and provide needed supports. Both because it’s right, and it’s in our own interests as taxpayers and citizens.

The coming election campaign is a chance to have a clear, specific discussion about the value of community services and the need for adequate funding and strong partnerships with government.


John Kay is the CEO of the United Community Services Co-op. He wrote this on behalf of the Roundtable of Provincial Social Services Organizations.