By Rabia Khedr and Guillaume Parent
People with disabilities are all too accustomed to being pushed to the sidelines or forgotten — especially where government policy is concerned. We saw that play out most recently in the global pandemic, where those with disabilities were last to be given a very modest, one-time federal benefit many months after similar pandemic benefits were provided for businesses, seniors and children.
And we’ve seen it play out for decades, where provincial disability benefits routinely push people with disabilities into poverty and dependence and where a federal disability tax credit is difficult to access.
So it would not be a leap to presume Canadians are content with disabled people being neglected and ignored by our governments. But you’d be wrong.
A new Angus Reid survey of Canadians on disability issues makes it clear that Canadians understand the financial hardships of people with disabilities and expect their governments to do significantly more to help them. With such clear awareness and expectation, the question is, what are our governments waiting for?
People with disabilities have much to contribute to Canada, and they deserve the right to flourish. Poverty and disability are not inevitable companions but a product of government policy. As a nation, it’s time to choose differently.
The Angus Reid data released recently, which surveyed a randomized sample of over 2,100 Canadians, including those with and without disability, reveals that disability affects around 30 per cent of Canadians directly. Another 42 per cent of Canadians report knowing someone close to them (family member or close friend) with a health condition or disability that poses significant challenges to their day-to-day activities.
In other words, disability is no longer about “the other” — that person over there — but affects many Canadians directly or indirectly. Disability discrimination is no longer someone else’s problem: it’s for all of us to tackle.
In the survey, those living with disabilities reported earning less than those without disabilities and this income gap increased with the severity of the disability. Six out of 10 respondents who identify as living with a disability describe their financial situation as “just OK” or “struggling to get by” while the same number of those living without a disability report they are “comfortable” or “well off.”
Four-in-10 persons living with disabilities say they are worried about money “often” or “all the time.” These sombre results are similarly reflected in the most recent Statistics Canada reports on the high levels of poverty for those living with disabilities.
It’s time we break the cycle of disability poverty.
The survey further reveals those living with disabilities, particularly in lower income brackets, reported unfair discrimination in the job market, unfair barriers to education, people underestimating their ability and exclusion from everyday events.
It turns out, Canadians expect their governments to do something about it.
In the most recent federal budget, the government announced it would explore a national Canada Disability Benefit to help pull Canadians with disabilities out of poverty and even the playing field. So, what do Canadians think?
According to the survey, the majority of Canadians (89 per cent) overwhelmingly support the proposed Canada Disability Benefit. The majority also believe it should be a national program, that it’s the right thing to do and that people with disabilities need more support.
Importantly, most also feel that the benefit should be above the poverty line (63 per cent). And the vast majority feel the government’s proposed three years of consultation first is far too long. Almost entirely (88 per cent) of Canadians agree with the statement, “It’s time the country came together to end disability poverty.”
As persons with disabilities ourselves, these numbers are refreshing. Canadians clearly get it.
We are no longer living in a bygone age when disability means a life consigned to poverty. It’s well past time to usher in an era of disability awareness, inclusion, championing and support in a country as fortunate and prosperous as Canada. This is not a handout, it’s a hand up.
Rabia Khedr is a national director for Disability Without Poverty and a former Ontario Human Rights Commissioner. She is currently a member of the Minister’s Disability Advisory Group appointed by Minister Carla Qualtrough.
Guillaume Parent is a national director for Disability Without Poverty and founded Finandicap Wealth Management. A father of two children, he has never let his cerebral palsy put a brake on his aspirations and his autonomy.