BC Legislature

What BC Budget 2021 Means for Gender Equity

by Amy Juschka

In the Premier’s joint statement on International Women's Day (March 8, 2021), he acknowledged the disproportionate impact the pandemic continues to have on women, and the opportunity for bold, systemic change.  

“More women are working in the hardest-hit sectors, and many have taken on additional caregiving responsibilities for their children and family members. Deeply troubling reports of intimate partner and family violence are on the rise. 

Together, we will use the opportunities before us to advance equality, protect everyone’s right to live free from violence, and build a better future for women, girls and trans people in British Columbia.” 

A day after the federal government tabled its historic “feminist budget,” BC Budget 2021 could have done more to support those most impacted by COVID-19. While the budget contained some significant highlights for women and families, we'd like to see bolder investments to support women’s economic security, universal child care, access to justice and a feminist recovery. 

Addressing Inequality

  • BC’s minimum wage will be raised to $15.20/hour starting June 1, 2021. This is positive news for many women and marginalized groups, who tend to be concentrated in minimum-wage sectors, but does not reflect the real cost of living across much of the province.  
  • $175 per month increase to income and disability assistance rates. While it’s the largest ever permanent increase to assistance, this bump falls well short of our recommended $300 per month increase, that also included scheduled increases tied to inflation. 
  • $26 million will help improve equitable access to transportation by making transit free for children aged 12 and under, starting September 2021. This is especially impactful for lower income, single mother-led and Indigenous families, who rely on public transit. 
  • $100 million will continue to fund the BC Recovery Benefit, which provides a one-time, tax-free payment of up to $1,000 for eligible families and up to $500 for eligible individuals. This may not go far, but is welcome news for the many women and single mother-led families struggling to make ends meet. 

Building a Universal Child Care System 

While we applaud the provincial government’s stated commitment to build a high quality, affordable and inclusive child care system, Budget 2021 failed to deliver on the government’s most recent election commitments. With historic federal funding announced yesterday, BC could have accelerated funding for Childcare BC to get more women back in the workforce, reduce the gender pay gap and bolster the economy. 

$233 million investment over three years. This is well short of the election commitment of $250 million per year. It does include: 

  • $20 million over three years to add 400 more spaces to the Aboriginal Head Start program that provides no-fee, culturally-based child care for Indigenous families. 

  • $111 million over three years to create 75 new $10 a day prototype sites. This will give some families access to 3,750 low or no cost child care spaces. We have seen the impact of affordable child care through our own prototype centre and were hoping for a more rapid expansion of $10 a day sites.  

  • $94 million over three years to double the current early childhood educator wage enhancement to a $4 per hour increase. We are disappointed not to see the adoption of a provincial wage grid, which would help advance pay equity and support recruitment and retention in the sector. 

Improving Access to Justice 

Once again, we are disappointed by a lack of investment in legal supports and services. Women and mothers who have experienced abuse continue to deplete their savings before being eligible for legal aid. Currently, three in five applicants are being denied with no new funding promised for representation services. 

  • $132 million more over three years to support courts, family dispute resolution, legal clinics, parent legal centres and family maintenance enforcement services, as well as sector wage enhancements. 

Supporting Mental Health 

A highlight of Budget 2021 is a historic investment in mental health supports, particularly for youth, with a goal to provide quicker and more coordinated responses and minimize trauma. 

  • $97 million to provide targeted mental health supports for children, youth and young adults. Funding will support the Mental Health in Schools program, as well as expand the number of integrated child and youth teams from five to 20 across BC by 2023/24 to support more school and community-based, multidisciplinary mental health and substance use services.  

What’s Missing  

With the challenges brought on by the pandemic, the provincial government had an opportunity to take meaningful action to correct the disproportionate burden women are shouldering. Without bold investments into an economic recovery that centres on women, the impacts of COVID-19 will continue to hinder progress for women and families.  

The following key areas are lacking or absent from Budget 2021: 

  • Funding to address gender-based violence. While the provincial government has committed to creating an action plan to address gender-based violence during its four-year term, Budget 2021 made no mention of investments to address the rise and severity of intimate partner violence during the pandemic. 
  • Meaningful action to address the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls' Calls for Justice directed at the provincial government. 
  • Targeted training and employment supports for women. Budget 2021 missed an important opportunity to address the she-session, a recession like no other in history, by providing targeted training and employment supports for women, especially those who have lost work due to the pandemic. 
  • Significant investments in housing. The provincial government continues to inject incremental investments to add new housing supply, particularly rental and non-profit housing. But provincial investments will struggle to keep pace with inflated real estate values and the high cost of rental housing. 
  • Stabilization funding to support the charitable and non-profit sector. We were thrilled to see the federal budget include a $400 million recovery fund to support the women-dominated non-profit sector. Unfortunately, we did not see any targeted supports for our sector in BC Budget 2021.
  • Paid sick days. Though health experts say paid sick days are what’s needed to better respond to COVID-19, the provincial government failed to provide this essential support for the many essential workers, often women and other marginalized groups, working in low-paid jobs. 

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Banner photo: BC Flag at Provincial Legislature in Victoria - Photo courtesy of the Province of BC