Budget 2024: Historic legal aid expansion, but lots left to do

Today, we were at BC’s 2024 Budget presentation in Victoria on the unceded Coast Salish homelands of the Lekwungen and W̱SÁNEĆ peoples to hear whether the government will implement our key recommendations.

Lawsuit settlement provides some much-need support, but not enough

Last week, we announced a historic win as the government settled our lawsuit brought by our client Centre for Family Equity that challenged its underfunding of the family law legal aid system. Today’s budget reveal includes the settlement, outlining the $29.1M that the Province will invest over the next three years to support Legal Aid BC in getting lone parents fleeing violence the legal aid services they urgently need.

While this is the biggest increase in funding to family law legal aid since cuts by the provincial government two decades ago, BC needs to do much more to ensure that the most vulnerable in our province aren’t left behind. We’ll continue our decades of work to make the legal aid system more responsive to the on-the-ground realities of survivors and better able to meet survivors’ complex legal needs.

Read more about our lengthy battle for legal aid and recent win in the case Single Mothers’ Alliance v BC.

While we’re heartened by this historic revitalization of family law legal aid, the 2024 Budget fails to meaningfully engage with our other two additional recommendations:

Family wellbeing, not family policing

We called on the government to make a transformative investment in prevention and support services for children, youth, families, communities, and Indigenous Nations engaged in the family policing system (also known as the child welfare system). This investment should center child and family well-being by addressing barriers such as poverty, the scarcity of harm reduction services for substance use, and inaccessibility of services (e.g., long waitlists).

We’re disappointed to see that the budget does not meaningfully reduce poverty, which can have devastating impacts on families and make them more likely to be targeted by the family policing system. Disability benefits and income assistance amounts – which are already extremely inadequate – will also not be increased.

While the budget commits to sustaining current addictions treatment and recovery programs for the next three years, it makes no investments in growing these services or making them safer for parents to access without fear of child apprehensions, despite the continuing drug toxicity crisis. 

And while there will be some investment “to improve front-line support and oversight” in the family policing system, it’s unclear whether the funds will be used to support families to stay together or to surveil them more intensely.

Homelessness prevention

We were also disappointed that there was no response to our call to increase funding for the Homelessness Prevention Program at BC Housing to $20 million, to expand the program to all eligible transitional housing programs across the province. Although BC is in a growing housing crisis, the Province seems to be maintaining current levels of funding for homelessness prevention, which is already not enough. As a result, survivors of family violence will continue to risk homelessness when fleeing violence.

Read our full submissions to the 2024 budget consultations for more details on our three recommendations.

We’ve got more work to do

BC’s Finance Minister emphasized the need not to have a “deficit of services,” but we are concerned that, with such a lean budget, this is exactly what will happen. Very few of the announcement items are responsive to population growth, but 2023 saw BC’s highest population growth in 30 years.

We’re also extremely concerned that there is no real integration of the MMIWG Action Plan into the budget, and no reference to the Provincial Gender-Based Violence Action Plan, which was recently released.

It’s clear we have work to do, both to hold the government accountable for it’s promises, and to advocate for more meaningful investments in the future.

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