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15 April, 2024

Government needs to listen to support for Canada Disability Benefit

by Rabia Khedr and Neil Hetherington

April 15, 2024

It seems there’s not much Canadians politically agree on these days. Which is why it was heartening to see that regardless of partisan allegiances or regional differences, most Canadians agree that it’s long past time the federal government funded a disability benefit. 

An Angus Reid survey released this week revealed that an overwhelming nine in ten Canadians support a federal disability benefit. This support comes from Conservative voters (88 per cent), Liberals (98 per cent), NDP (99 per cent) and Bloc Quebecois voters (98 per cent).

Moreover, seven in ten Canadians believe that the federal government is moving too slowly to roll out the benefit. Most respondents don’t trust the government will deliver on their promise of a benefit at all.

Parliament passed legislation last year to move forward with the Canada Disability Benefit (CDB), a program intended to supplement provincial disability benefits and pull disabled Canadians out of poverty; but the benefit has not yet been budgeted or rolled out, despite initially being proposed as far back as 2020. 

The federal budget, to be released next week, will determine if Canadians’ pessimism is unfounded or fair. 

We’ll soon find out if the federal government has been listening to Canadians – and to their own Members of Parliament.  More thanone third of Liberal MPs recently signed a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau and Finance Minister Freeland urging them to budget the benefit this fiscal cycle. 

If the Prime Minister has been listening, there will be a robust budget line item for the CDB, at long last. It couldn’t come a moment sooner. 

Times are tough and everyday Canadians recognize that the affordability crisis is hitting disabled people hard. Buying healthy food and basic necessities are further and further out of reach for far too many.  In fact, 27 per cent of Canadians live with a disability according to the latest Statistics Canada data, a five per cent increase from 2017.  Most Canadians without disability (73 per cent) have a friend, family member, neighbour or colleague with a disability, with many of them (one in four) living in poverty. 

Currently, no provincial or territorial disability assistance payment raises disabled people above the poverty line. It’s no wonder Canadians overwhelming support the CDB and want it to happen now. 

A March 2024 study from Disability Without Poverty asked thousands of disabled Canadians what they would do with the CDB and found many described their situation as ‘critical.’ The study found disabled Canadians are facing extreme hardship and life-threatening challenges; several participants express concerns that disabled people are choosing medical assistance in dying (MAiD) due to experiencing poverty and intolerable living conditions. 

But the CDB offers hope.

The CDB is a transforming opportunity for disabled people. Disability brings many additional living expenses. These extra costs can push individuals with disabilities further and further into poverty or prevent them from escaping it. 

“This benefit would help to purchase food, clothing and medical care not covered by OHIP,” says Rebecca M., a mother of two who suffers from a permanent disability. “It would assist me in obtaining a healthier lifestyle, and a safer home environment.”

It is imperative that the CDB be offered on top of territorial or provincial benefits and that disabled people eligible for it do not suffer claw backs to any other assistance they are receiving. 

Canadians are counting on this government to budget an adequate amount for disabled people living in poverty, generously investing in the endless possibilities to be unleashed for people with disabilities to contribute to their families, community and society.

Rabia Khedr is the National Director of Disability Without Poverty.

Neil Hetherington is the CEO of the Daily Bread Food Bank.

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