Release: Budget 2019 brings welcome improvements in benefits but falls short on legal aid

VICTORIA – Today, the provincial government released Budget 2019. The budget takes important steps towards addressing poverty in the province. The budget also leaves disappointing gaps in services that will disproportionately impact women and other people impacted by gender-based discrimination.

“This budget indicates political will to address poverty and implements some important measures to address income inequality. However, an effective poverty reduction plan must include investment in legal aid, pay equity, and social assistance benefits,” says Kasari Govender, Executive Director of West Coast LEAF. “The failure to properly fund family legal aid is particularly devastating for women leaving violent relationships.”

Govender adds, “The change to the definition of spouse in social assistance legislation is a very welcome change and will improve access to benefits for women. The current definitions of both ‘dependent’ and ‘spouse’ in social assistance legislation impose financial dependence on another person. The definitions put women at heightened risk of relationship violence, undermine their independence, and prohibit them from entering new relationships that could eventually provide mutual support. This change will improve access to benefits for women and children living in poverty.”

There are a number of other positive developments for women, children, and families in this budget. The BC Child Opportunity Benefit will be a significant support for low-income families, particularly as it extends from birth to a child’s 18th birthday. In addition, we are pleased to see an increase in support for kinship caregivers to ensure that children – particularly Indigenous children – are supported to stay with their families and communities rather than removing them and continuing the cycle of intergenerational trauma in Indigenous communities. 

While the budget announces the piloting of eight legal clinics across the province, the dollars tentatively attached to this promise fall far short of what would be required to create the kind of clinical legal clinic structure that is so desperately needed. Moreover, there is no increase in investment in the civil legal aid system to reduce barriers to eligibility and increase services.

We believe that future BC budgets must adequately invest in legal aid, meaningfully address woefully inadequate social assistance rates, and address pay inequity.