Adults with developmental disabilities have had a rough ride from the provincial government over the past couple of years, and they likely face more difficult times ahead.
The budget introduced on Tuesday calls for the amount of money spent on each client is going to drop significantly over the next three years.
How will those cuts be made?
Social Development Minister Moira Stilwell’s answer is that the department is trying to be “innovative and client-centred.” Those laudable goals don’t add up to a plan.
The government budgets a small increase this year in the total amount of money it spends on adult community living, which funds clients in residential settings or assists them at home. In following years, it will be fixed at $738.8 million. However, it expects that the number of clients will continue to rise, so the amount spent on each person will go down.
The changes are dramatic. In residential services, the money spent per client drops from $70,926 in 2012-13 to $63,185 over three years. In personal supports, which help people who have disorders like autism along with developmental disabilities, the spending drops from $24,083 to $10,108 over the same period. The number of clients for personal supports is expected to more than double over those years, to 945.
The last time Community Living B.C. faced budget issues, its solution was to close group homes and move people from longtime residences against their will. The resulting outcry led to the resignations of a minister and the CEO, an infusion of cash and an 18-month rebuilding plan, which is six months from completion.
Given that history, it will take a lot of “innovation” to match the cuts without harming the clients.
It appears as if the ministry was handed a fixed budget for the next three years and was left to divide it among its clients by simple arithmetic. The “how” will come later.
As Faith Bodnar of the advocacy group Inclusion B.C. points out, people with developmental disabilities are living longer. As they age, they face the same health issues that affect all seniors, so their care costs are bound to rise.
While they are aging, so are their parents, who are often their main caregivers. In time, the parents will be unable to look after them.
There are no easy answers. The government has limited options when it is trying to balance the budget. More money for CLBC clients would mean cuts in other departments or tax increases for everyone.
But leaving the numbers hanging over the heads of these vulnerable people and their harried families verges on cruelty. The organizations that fought for them over the last couple of years are battered by the experience and dread having to do battle again.
Bodnar notes that if innovation is the key, the parents and supporters of developmentally disabled people have been doing that in B.C. since 1955, when they first organized to move children out of institutions and into community settings that were more humane and beneficial. Against professional advice and without government support, they “created something out of nothing,” she says.
Yet Bodnar says she has had no calls from the government for consultation on the budget fallout.
If the government has a plan for serving these vulnerable people effectively with less money, it must explain that plan so the families and agencies understand what is going on. If it doesn’t have a plan, it must start talking to those groups right away, because it will take a lot of “innovation” to turn those budget numbers into a roadmap that doesn’t create more grief for families who already have too much on their plates.