BC Legislature building on summer day.

Budget 2024: A Fed Overview

It’s been a minute since the BC government released its 2024 Budget, and we’ve had that time to digest it and to find the areas where there are improvements for our sector — as well as those where there are not.

The province has increased spending on social services in 2024/25 to$10.47 billion, compared to $9.15 billion last year (which was a decrease from the year prior), but after that, it’s expected to stagnate for the next few years. The largest portion of that spending bump comes from about $600 million more spending in child welfare, while social assistance, low income tax credit transfers, and community living and other services are each slated to get $200-300 million in new funding.

Here are a few areas we’re thinking about in this budget:

Child Welfare
Budget 2024 makes important steps towards helping to keep children in their communities and, importantly, their families. Of the child welfare spending increase, $114 million is committed over three years to funding 72 new staff to child welfare and oversight. That includes 14 to 25 Roots workers to support cultural connection and planning for Indigenous children and youth.

But Jennifer Charlesworth, BC’s Representative for Children and Youth, expressed frustration that there aren’t more resources dedicated to transitioning services from the Ministry of Children and Family Development to Indigenous communities and to address inequities in access to services and supports for Indigenous children and youth on and off reserve. To that end, Charlesworth said:
“I continue to be disappointed that the acute needs of B.C.’s most vulnerable young people are not being reflected fiscally. … I expect much more, and children, Youth as well as their families and communities are telling us very loudly that they expect more as well.”

As noted by Charlesworth and others, there also remains a persistent lack of supports and services for children and youth across the disability spectrum, particularly neurodivergent children and those with cognitive disabilities.

Mental Health, Addictions and Substance Use
This budget’s mental health provisions effectively stay the course set by last year’s historic $867-million mental health and addictions budget. As Johnny Morris, CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association’s BC branch, noted, “It represents a pattern of sustained investment.”

New funding this year ($215 million) will go towards mental health and addictions recovery beds, mobile integrated crisis response teams and peer-assisted care teams, as well as some funding for harm reduction, including overdose prevention sites, drug checking and naloxone distribution.

The budget makes no mention of safer supply or prescribed alternatives to the toxic drug supply, despite an urgent call by the Death Review Panel last year for expanding measures, including through non-prescriber models. However, it is clear that many budget details are being communicated in subsequent announcements. Further, in an election year it is relatively common to see two budgets in the year as well as many new policies that appear in political platforms.

Since the budget was released, there has been some movement already on youth mental health, in particular through the creation of 10 new Foundry locations. Resources for youth mental health are particularly pressing at this moment, when First Call’s recent report highlights many challenges facing youth and mental health. To again quote Charlesworth:

“We need tangible action, and we need it now. Key priorities must include affordable and accessible childcare, strengthening supports for children and youth with special needs, and meaningfully working with groups that are over-represented in poverty data.”

Poverty Reduction
Movement on poverty reduction has begun since the budget was announced, with the province introducing legislation recently aiming to reduce poverty by 60%. That includes setting a new goal to reduce child poverty by 75% and, for the first time, a commitment to reduce seniors’ poverty by 50%.

While there is the new commitment to seniors’ poverty reduction, the Canadian Association of Retired Persons said it is “disheartened” by the budget, saying, “in a nutshell, older adults who vote and need numerous services were barely mentioned.”

The legislation includes more supports for people who need them and measures to ease employment requirements for people on income and disability assistance.

The changes acknowledge that not everyone who seeks assistance is immediately able to start looking for a job. However, the assessment around one’s ability to work may put a lot of power in the hands of the ministry to take supports away, without the ability for recipients to ask the court to review that decision.

What’s more, as the federal government contemplates its own disability benefit, the province won’t say that it won’t claw some of that back from the provincial benefit, which remains well below the poverty line.

Poverty reduction is especially important today, when a recent First Call report found that child poverty rose in 2021, following the loss of pandemic benefits.

Housing is pertinent to poverty reduction, and the province has appropriately dedicated a significant amount of ink to the housing file. However, there’s little new in the budget, given the major announcements over the last several months.

It dedicates $198 million over three years, including $150 million in operating funding and $48 million in capital funding, to develop “middle-income” housing, which is geared to those making $84,780 to $131,950 for a studio or one-bedroom home or $134,410 to $191,910 for a two-bedroom home or larger.

The budget does commit to introducing the $400 grant for renters that the BC NDP promised in 2017. It’s worth noting, however, that while the annual homeowner grants are not income tested, the renters’ rebate will be.

First United executive director Amanda Burrows also points out an apparent lack of funding dedicated to ending bad-faith evictions to back up the talk about this issue in the throne speech, while a recent report by the Carnegie Housing Project suggested homelessness in Vancouver could rise by about 50% by 2030.

Any improvement to healthcare has rippling effects throughout society, including our own work, and this is a file that does have a large fiscal commitment.

More funding for health infrastructure ($13 billion) is great, but it must be paired with funding for workers to service that infrastructure. With $2 billion in spending on services, we are heartened that, after reported concerns by BC Nurses’ Union leadership of a lack of direct investment into nurses, the province has committed to a minimum nurse-to-patient ratio, with funding tied to it.

Importantly, this budget represents the beginning of a new public health care benefit in BC with funding for in vitro fertilization (IVF). The budget allocates $68 million for it over two years, starting in April next year, funding one round of treatment and medication for the process. For young aspiring families, this can help alleviate some of the real financial and emotional burdens associated with conceiving. Take, for instance, these comments made to The Globe and Mail by a couple that spent $80,000 on IVF:

“If we had had funding, that would have taken so much stress off at a time when everyone says all you should focus on is not stressing. … We would have had more opportunity to work on our mental health, to not feel so guilty to take a day off if we needed it. It would have been invaluable to have that peace of mind.”

New public health benefits represent our social advancements as a society, and the province is to be congratulated on making the policy inclusive to single people and queer couples who are often excluded from family planning programs. We do hope the province heeds concerns that the allocated funding may not address current needs because it is likely that there will be elevated demand from making IVF attainable to more families: Which is a good thing! Congratulations to all potential parents and the advocates who helped make this a reality.