In September 2020, the Government of Canada committed to creating a new benefit – the Canada Disability Benefit. The promise of lifting disabled people out of poverty in Canada started to become a possibility, with a benefit that would significantly reduce disability poverty.
Currently there are at least 1.4 million disabled people living in poverty in Canada. They represent 41% of the people who live in poverty, which is a disproportional amount, as 22% of the population of Canada are disabled people. The support for lifting disabled people out of poverty is strong, as 89% of Canadians agree that this is the right thing to do.
Disabled people and their allies have long recognized that this is an unacceptable situation. Belonging to the only minority group that anyone can join at any time often means never being employed or being underemployed – never having a career or earning a wage and all that comes with it, not accruing benefits for the future, not achieving those societal expectations of being a “worthy contributor to society”, being constantly dependent rather than independent.
Furthermore, being disabled has additional costs – medication, housing, transportation, child care, equipment, personal care and so on.
These costs are complex and individual, and for those who live in poverty, these costs are either unmet or delivered through a patchwork of programs that often increase the level of surveillance on disabled people, having to prove both physical and financial need.
The government has presented us with an incredible opportunity – a Canada Disability Benefit. It’s going to require federal, provincial and territorial cooperation to craft a benefit that does just that – benefits disabled people.
All too easily, the word benefit becomes synonymous with money – but that’s a small part of the story here. Instead, a benefit that takes a human rights perspective, that sees poverty reduction as a strategy that delivers dignity, autonomy, inclusivity, and independence to disabled people, offers genuine, substantive meaningful change to disabled people living in poverty.
It allows disabled people to be included as full members of society, by ensuring they have funds to cover the basic necessities for life, by ensuring that they have the goods and services they need, and by ensuring disabled people are seen as active, engaged, contributing members of our society, where they are respected for the skills they bring to a vibrant, diverse Canada.
So – what are our priorities?
The development of the benefit must
- Include disabled people in all aspects of the design of the benefit.
- Balance thorough examination of the situation with a speedy response to get the money into the hands of disabled people as quickly as possible.
The benefit itself:
- The new benefit must be in addition to any current federal, territorial and provincial benefits and services, and private insurance payments that disabled people receive. The complexity of supports needed by disabled people means that a suite of supports are needed, including housing, health care, equipment provision, community care and so on. No single benefit can cover these needs. Hence, there must be no claw backs, financially or of goods and services.
- The Canada Disability Benefit must be an individualized benefit, so that disabled people have financial independence. The Canada Disability Benefit should belong to the individual disabled person, not be means tested across a relationship or a family, giving disabled people their own income, and the autonomy that this brings.
- Access to this benefit must have the fewest hoops – disabled people who already receive a federal, territorial or provincial benefit get immediate access to the benefit.
- Those disabled people who do not receive a federal, territorial or provincial benefit need a separate application to apply, one that also gives them speedy access to the benefit.
- Accessibility must also include disabled people whose level of disability changes – because disability is permanent or temporary, stable or progressive or episodic – and they must be able to access this benefit as their situation changes.
- There must also a generous earnings exemption, so that disabled people who are able to work have the chance to keep the money they earn. To make work pay for these disabled people, they must benefit from the wages they earn, rather than lose it paying for the supports that they need to live.
- Finally, the Canada Disability Benefit must actually lift disabled people out of poverty, by being part of a system of benefits that provides an income that is above Canada’s Official Poverty Line, so that is takes into account the additional costs of disability.
poverty & disability
2023 | A Benefit without Barriers
March of Dimes and Prosper Canada partnered to explore the question of how people with disabilities will access the Canada Disability Benefit, with the goal of dismantling barriers to ensure all eligible individuals receive it. This series of co-creation principles and recommendations will help the Canada Disability Benefit to bring equity and dignity to all.
2022 | Canada’s Disability Inclusion Action Plan
Back in 2020, the Government of Canada announced the creation of a Disability Inclusion Action Plan to reform disability programs and services. This report came out in 2022, after three years of consultations with the disability community, researchers and other stakeholders.
2021 | Canada Disability Benefit Design Recommendations
Our friends at Inclusion Canada have developed an overview of the Canada Disability Benefit along with Design Recommendations. We appreciate their advocacy to secure a Canada Disability Benefit and the important points they raise.
Meaningful participation of persons with disabilities in regulation making
ARCH Disability Law Centre created this project as a result of the Accessible Canada Act, and looks to address the participation and inclusion of people with disabilities in regulation making processes. This participation is key to ensuring government policy destined for people with disabilities have a positive impact.