Budget 2022 Consultation Submission
The provincial government has demonstrated care for our most vulnerable neighbours and a commitment to reducing poverty and inequality during COVID-19. Budget 2022 should build on these exciting foundations and implement further initiatives to support a just recovery for low wage workers.
We have 7 recommendations for change that will both lift the wages of BC's lowest paid workers, and lower the cost of living for families with children.
The power of public policy
In 2019, the Living Wage rates dropped across British Columbia due to child care supports introduced by the provincial and federal governments. Because of these investments the Living Wage for Metro-Vancouver was $19.50 an hour, while without them, it would have been $22.47 per hour.
The lower living wages show the impact of good public policy. When more is provided in universal public services that everyone can benefit from, the cost of living decreases, and Canadians don’t need to struggle to pay for basic goods and services privately.
However, there is more that can be done to lift low wage workers out of poverty.
Recomendations for change
Implement a living wage policy for all direct and contracted provincial government staff and any company receiving COVID-19 benefits from government
The BC Government plays a significant role in local economies through its role as an employer, contractor, and investor.
Committing to pay a living wage to all government employees and enabling government-funded agencies to also pay a living wage, would highlight the government’s commitment to poverty reduction. Further, it would signal to other employers that paying fair wages will become a normal and acceptable part of doing business in British Columbia.
Particular sectors that are vulnerable to low wages include social services, child care and some (non-unionised) health care. These are sectors that have been on the frontline keeping people safe and cared for during the pandemic, and at the very least should be earning a living wage for their work. The government should also look at contracts more broadly: all catering, cleaning and security that is procured and any construction work that is funded through public capital investments.
In addition, the BC Government has been very generous in providing support to many businesses that are struggling because of COVID-19. They should look to include Living Wage clauses in any future support they provide to ensure that it trickles down to low wage workers.
Raise the minimum wage with regular, predictable increases until it meets the cost of living, and then index future increases annually.
The minimum wage should be a floor that protects low-wage workers, keeps them above the poverty line, and reduces wage inequality. We welcome the steps that the provincial government has taken to lift the minimum wage to over $15 an hour.
However, there is still a $4.30 gap between the minimum wage and the Living Wage for the most populated parts of BC. Minimum wage workers have to work For minimum wage workers in Victoria and Vancouver, that means they need to work an extra 10 hours a week just to make ends meet.
The Government should move forward with its promise to increase the minimum wage annually with regular, predictable increases until it meets the cost of living.
With predictable increases, employers would be able to plan in advance and not be surprised by unexpectedly higher business costs. The minimum wage should be enough for people to be able to afford to live in their communities.
Introduce a permanent paid sick leave program for all workers.
Over a year into a global pandemic, we’re happy to see that the BC Government have finally taken steps to introduce paid sick leave for workers ill with COVID-19 and have committed to introducing a longer term paid sick leave scheme.
The majority of workers in Canada (58 per cent) don’t have employer-paid sick leave and the number jumps to over 70 per cent for those earning less than $25,000.
The quicker this legislation can be introduced the more workers will be protected. No one should have to choose between working while sick and not being able to pay rent.
Address growing income and wealth inequality by establishing a fairer, more progressive personal and corporate income taxation system.
Leveling the playing field is one of the best investments government can make to ensure people thrive and become full participants in society and the economy. Inequality reduces social mobility, undermining the promise of a fair society and increasing social alienation for those left behind.
Currently, the richest Canadians are increasing their share of total national income, while the poorest and middle-income groups have been losing ground and the pandemic has only exacerbated these divides. As a result, socioeconomic position has become one of the most important social determinants of education outcomes and social mobility. And studies have shown that high rates of economic inequality negatively impact on both the rich and the poor on a range of health and wellness measures .
Beyond negative health effects, growing socioeconomic inequity erodes social cohesion, empathy and compassion, which leads to increased social isolation, stigmatization and marginalization of the poor, distrust, crime, stress and despair.
Prioritize new child care investments
The government’s investments in child care to date are laudable. The benefits of BC’s progress to date are already evident - 98% of families in $10aDay programs report reduced financial stress and improved quality of life. BC needs to build on this momentum, and move forward with their plans to introduce a $10aDay system.
At the moment, child care is still the second highest expense for the living wage family in most BC communities, and comprises 22% of the family budget in Metro Vancouver. Before the pandemic, parents struggled to find convenient, high quality, affordable child care, while child care providers struggled to attract and provide decent wages for early childhood educators and to keep parent fees manageable.
This situation has been exacerbated during the pandemic. In November 2020, 60% of mothers with children under the age of 13 were working less than half their usual hours, citing child care and reduced hours as reasons . The lack of affordable, accessible, high quality child care remains a gaping hole in our social and economic infrastructure, which forces many parents—especially mothers—out of full, paid employment.
Scale up funding to build thousands of new social and affordable rental housing units and implement policies to help lower the cost of rent for families in BC
The biggest and fastest-growing expense in the living wage budget we calculate each year is housing. For example, in 2019 the median monthly rent for a three-bedroom unit in Metro Vancouver rose by $103 to $1,703, a whopping 6.4% increase from 2018. This is far above the 2.5% maximum allowable rental increase per year that landlords can charge to new tenants.
To protect housing affordability and slow down the rapid increases in rent, the provincial government should protect the existing affordable housing stock and help create more affordable housing options for families across BC. The Province could provide incentives to local governments to protect and build housing, and could also provide more provincial funding.
Furthermore, the government should implement rent control whereby allowable rent increases would be tied to the unit, not to the tenant. This would prevent landlords from increasing rent by greater than the allowable 2.5% percent when a tenant moves out, and would give both renters and landlords greater security.
Work with the federal government to introduce universal coverage for all Canadians for prescription drugs, dental care, eye care and hearing aids as essential aspects of health care.
There is no more basic need than that of good health and, when needed, access to resources that ensure medical needs are met.
Access to prescription medication for low-income people was a major problem pre-pandemic. One in five people also reported they were not taking medications because of their prohibitive costs, leading thousands annually to end up in hospital. The COVID-19 health pandemic has made the need for a universal, single-payer public system of prescription drugs more acute.
Canada is the only high-income country in the world with a universal health care system that does not include a universal drug plan. Instead, we have an expensive patchwork system that is costly to families and businesses, and results in inequitable access to important medications.
Provincial health care plans should also be supported to include dental and eye care, as well as hearing aids.
Please feel free to get in touch.