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19 July, 2021

Ensure the Canadian Disability Benefit becomes a reality

By Michelle Hewitt

Imagine a group of 100 Canadians: young, old, from coast to coast to coast, representing the rich diversity of this country. I see them talking, laughing, sharing photos of their family. Maybe someone has a ball and a game breaks out.

Ten of those 100 Canadians live in poverty. Sure, they’re probably still joining in the fun, and you might not even know which 10 they are, but they live with the daily stress of not knowing how they’re going to feed their family or keep a roof over their head or grapple with any of the other major issues that come with living in poverty.

Out of those 10 Canadians living in poverty, four are disabled. On top of their concerns for food, clothing and shelter, they can’t afford to pay for vital medications, the care they need or the medical devices they rely on to function.

When we look at the statistics more closely, we see that 22 per cent of Canadians live with a disability, but they make up 41 per cent of the group who live in poverty. Persons with a disability living in poverty are over-represented – there are twice as many disabled people in the group than statistics alone would account for.

When we look further, we see that disabled people are less likely to be employed than those without disabilities, and often those who are employed end up chronically under-employed, in minimum-wage, part-time positions, earning a wage that is insufficient to support them.

But this may be about to change. In the last speech from the throne, the federal government proposed a new national benefit -— the Canadian Disability Benefit (CDB) — that promises a massive positive step forward for easing the financial hardship of persons with disabilities. This week, Minister Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Carla Qualtrough tabled legislation to make the Canada Disability Benefit a reality.

Canadians across the country recognize the problem and applaud the solution. A recent Angus Reid poll reveals an overwhelming majority of Canadians — 89 per cent — support (strongly or moderately) the proposed Canadian Disability Benefit. And 88 per cent believe that a Canadian Disability Benefit is an essential commitment from government.

As someone who lives with a disability, this gives me great hope. It demonstrates that Canadians of all stripes recognize the imperative to support disabled Canadians and move them out of poverty.

I am not alone in this hope. A new movement has formed. This month we launched Disability Without Poverty, an organization that is led by disabled Canadians, represents the rich diversity of our experiences and builds on past momentum and movements. We have come together to ensure that our federal government follows through on their promise of a Canadian Disability Benefit.

Canadians have little faith in our governments to do the work of lifting disabled Canadians out of poverty. The Angus Reid survey found that 62 per cent of Canadians say they have no confidence in the federal government to get the job done, and there’s even less confidence in provincial governments (66 per cent).

At Disability Without Poverty, we believe that this change can and must happen. We know the task is too big for the government to do alone, so we are here to help.

We are committed to a Canada where no disabled person lives in poverty. The first step is designing a Canadian Disability Benefit that brings our government systems together to work cooperatively, to make sure the needs of disabled Canadians are heard and that money gets into their hands quickly.

This movement is only just beginning. There’s a place for everyone at the table: persons with all types and severity of disability, their families, friends and allies. Join us, because we know that we all want to live in a Canada where we are proud that no one with a disability lives in poverty.

Michelle Hewitt is co-chair of Disability Without Poverty, and a disabled woman living in Kelowna, B.C. She is also a PhD student at the University of British Columbia-Okanagan. Given the severity of her own disability, she does this work from her bed with the company of her two Bernese Mountain dogs.

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