Bolder, faster, together asks the question: how can we all take responsibility for the past, navigate a turbulent present, and cooperate to protect future generations? Follow this series, coordinated by the Transition Innovation Group of Community Foundations of Canada, which explores the profound societal transformation already underway and accelerating in Canada and around the world.
In Canada, more than one in five people live with a disability. Although almost everyone knows someone affected, most people are unaware that government support does not scratch the surface when it comes to covering even the most basic needs. Canadians with disabilities are more than twice as likely to live in poverty as the rest of the population.
People with disabilities have a higher cost of living because they face costs that other Canadians have never had to consider. There is a misconception that things like accessible home adaptations and essential mobility aids are covered by public programs. Yet the coverage of a patchwork of federal, provincial and territorial funding is partial at best, forcing people with disabilities to choose between buying food and accessing the internet or even raising money to meet their basic needs.
In British Columbia, Madeline is literally fundraising to stay alive. Suffering from a post-viral syndrome, her financial vulnerability is urgent and increases day by day. She writes: “In British Columbia, [disabled] people receive about $1,000 a month less than what a healthy person earning minimum wage earns in 40 hours a week. After four decades of navigating so-called “welfare,” Madeline is exhausted and deeply in debt. When she runs out of money, she intends to access the only other public service available to her: medical assistance in dying.
Madeline’s dilemma is far from unique. According to Statistics Canada, more than a quarter of people with disabilities cannot afford the necessary assistive devices and prescriptions. What would you do if you couldn’t afford medication to control your pain? Or if the wheelchair you needed to move independently broke down before your province’s rules allowed funding for a new one?
The Disability Without Poverty movement emerged during the pandemic to address these injustices. The organization brings together people from communities across Canada with a diversity of disabilities and other intersecting identities. The movement advocates for a Canadian Disability Benefit that would empower every person with a disability to thrive, realize their power, pursue their passions and participate in all aspects of society. It’s a vision that requires not just a unified disability movement, but action by all Canadians to foster collaboration between all levels of government.
The 2020 Speech from the Throne proposed “a new Canadian disability benefit inspired by the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors”. This commitment was renewed in the 2021 budget and should not be forgotten amid recent concerns around inflation.
People with disabilities were neglected long before the pandemic and continue to face barriers to full social and economic participation. COVID-19 has only brought to light the ways in which ableism works in Canadian society and in our economic system. Adults with disabilities languish in long-term care facilities and many still lack the support needed to live independently in the community. Children with disabilities have struggled with inaccessible approaches to online learning and are now facing staffing shortages in schools. Disabled workers have been stunned by the rapid shift to working from home after demanding similar flexibility from employers for decades.
The pandemic has also sparked deeper thinking about the kinds of infrastructure needed to support Canadians, not just roads and railways. These are care systems that include financial support. Who benefits from paid sick leave? Who loses income to take care of children? Canada’s social infrastructure is changing, but it remains uneven.
Opinion: Canada needs a national income supplement that would supplement existing benefits rather than undermine other forms of support, write Rabia Khedr and Emily Macrae. #Inequality #AccessibilityMatters #Accessibility #COVID19
At the onset of COVID, Ottawa moved quickly to support Canadians facing unemployment by introducing the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). The same care and attention was not given to people with disabilities, who had to wait months for a token amount of $600 that was only available to those eligible for the Disability Tax Credit within reach. narrow. Even that gesture often did more harm than good.
The current disability income support system is designed around the clawback. It’s a term that casts a long shadow in the disability community: essentially, if a person’s income or assets go up, welfare goes down. In Ontario, that meant people on provincial disability assistance who qualified for the CERB lost $900 on every pandemic response payment.
The lack of coordination between federal and provincial programs adds insult to injury because, as Madeline’s experience shows, people receiving government assistance still live far below the poverty line. Accordingly, Disability Without Poverty is advocating for a national income supplement that would be added to existing benefits rather than undermining other forms of support.
It is time for Canada to move from social assistance to social infrastructure. While current social assistance programs are fragmented, difficult to navigate and built around restrictions, the social infrastructure focuses on dignity rather than diagnosis, capacity rather than recovery. Adequate income support will enable people with disabilities to contribute to shared spaces and services for all Canadians.
Philanthropic organizations can amplify the Disability Without Poverty message and strengthen the national campaign through research and resource sharing. For this reason, Handicap Sans Pauvreté has established partnerships with non-profit associations and secured independent funding to consult with economists and inclusive design experts on equitable approaches to income support.
Charitable foundations cannot replace the leadership of people with lived experience of disability, nor should private donations be required to meet the needs of people with disabilities. The fact that Canadians are giving to help cover the monthly expenses of people like Madeline shows the failure of Canada’s existing social infrastructure rather than the power of philanthropy.
Outdated conceptions of philanthropy portray people with disabilities as objects of pity and passive recipients of funding. In contrast, Disability Without Poverty knows that people living with disabilities are natural collaborators and problem solvers capable of creating systemic change.
Disability Without Poverty reaches out to people across Canada and conducts independent research to refocus dignity and community care in Canada. The movement advocates that friends, family members, neighbors and strangers with disabilities have the same opportunities for economic and social engagement in whatever capacity they desire.
To achieve this goal, we need individuals and organizations to unite behind equitable income support and show that neither private donations nor existing public programs can guarantee the dignity of the 22% of Canadians living with disabilities.