Community services need stable funding to help vulnerable

By: Tim Agg, chair of the Roundtable of Provincial Social Services Organizations and executive director of PLEA Community Services Society of BC
Vancouver Sun

We can predict some things that will be in the throne speech on Feb. 12. It will praise the government’s job plan, and talk about balancing the budget. Education and health care will receive at least passing mentions.

But those of us in the community services sector are going to be listening for long-overdue commitments to action on the critical issues undermining our work.

We need to know that the government, and MLAs of all parties, recognize that a decade of cuts and frozen budgets have done real damage to our province, and its future.

What we do matters. We run daycare centres, work with families in crisis, deal with addictions and help people be the best parents possible. We help keep seniors in their homes, and support people with disabilities in living independent, rich lives. From cradle to grave, community services are there to support people when they most need it.

And we are in crisis. Most agencies have received no cost of living increases for a decade even as costs and demands have increased. We have cut services and seen waiting lists grow. Fundraising and volunteers have helped, but we have reached the breaking point.

Our agencies – private and non-profit, large and small – need to be able to count on government ministries as partners in building a better British Columbia. We share many goals, and can be most effective when we work together, as real collaborators.

And, like schools and hospitals, we need stable, long-term funding commitments in order to make our communities safe places to live, learn, work and play.

More than 64,000 people work in the sector. This highly trained, experienced workforce, supported by thousands of volunteers, improves the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. But frozen wages and the daily stress of trying to meet too many needs with too few resources are taking their toll on the people on the front lines – and that’s bad for the people we help.

Our sector delivers economic returns. The TD Bank recently reported, for example, that for every dollar invested in early childhood development, three dollars would be returned. Providing home-care services for a senior costs far less than residential care. Helping young parents build better parenting skills changes the lives of their children in every developmental respect: physically, intellectually and emotionally. Rescuing a teen from the early stages of addiction prevents both the heartbreak endured by families, but also future costs from health care to treatment to incarceration. There is more than one kind of deficit that governments can leave for future generations.

There is also a strong moral argument supporting the sector. We have the ability to help and support people when they need it. We can change their lives, strengthen families and communities and give every British Columbian the chance to contribute to a better future. It is wrong to turn our backs on people who need our help to overcome adversity and live full lives.

The throne speech might also talk about helping the “most vulnerable.” That’s important.

But we’re all potentially vulnerable. An injury can make employment impossible without help and support. A child can fall into addiction. A crisis can threaten family stability. Violence can rip a family apart. We provide help when it’s needed.

We’ll be listening closely to the throne speech. We need to hear evidence the government understands the importance of community services, and is prepared to fund them and work with us as partners.

We’re going to keep listening, and watching, when the budget is presented Feb. 19.

And we’re going to be making sure all candidates and political parties understand the importance of our sector and its critical challenges, and are committed to providing the support that will mean a better British Columbia.