‘Budget the Benefit’ say disability groups to the Finance Minister

Michelle Hewitt and Rabia Khedr

QUOI Media

Will the 44th Canadian Parliament go down in history as the one that unanimously ensured that people with disabilities had a chance to live with dignity? Will it be promise made, promise kept?  Or will disabled people continue to live in deep poverty, with no assistance coming in any reasonable timeframe?

Working age Canadians with disabilities living in poverty were promised the Canada Disability Benefit (CDB) in Prime Minister Trudeau’s speech from the throne in September 2020.  Deep in the pandemic this seemed like a lifeline, as the only emergency relief was a one-off payment of $600 delivered to only those people with disabilities who were identifiable in federal databases – a harbinger of things to come with the CDB, perhaps.

The initial proposed legislation, Bill c35, was introduced on the heels of Parliament resting for the summer in June 2021. An election was called. Parliament was dissolved along with C35. It would take a further year for the same legislation, rebranded as Bill c22, to be tabled again in 2022. This achieved Royal Ascent in June this year under the watchful eye of Minister Carla Qualtrough with Parliamentarians of both Houses doing their due diligence to ensure that people with disabilities were central to the process of implementing the benefit and taking time to improve the legislation along the way. 

Things certainly seemed to be moving along, but no-one in the disability community was going to rest. Co-creation of an historic benefit to lift disabled people out of poverty had to remain the goal – ‘Nothing about us without us.’ 

Over the summer a cabinet shuffle brought a new Minister, Kamal Khera, with a different portfolio. The proposed engagement process announced on July 24th fell short of the in-depth engagement the disability community had been promised. And as time passes, disabled people find themselves in deeper and deeper poverty with the cost of living rising; never mind the cost of living with a disability.

Let’s take one community as an example. In 2020, the year the Canada Disability Benefit was announced in the Throne Speech, Canada’s Official Poverty Line for single people in Fredericton was $1884. Latest figures from 2022 show that poverty line to have risen to $2125. If you’re single, disabled, unable to work, living in Fredericton, your Disability Assistance income in $786.

There are no words to describe that level of abject poverty.

This year’s Welfare in Canada report from Maytree shows that once again there is no province where the disability assistance payment reaches the poverty line, and only two provinces manage to reach the Deep Income Poverty line. None of these calculations take into consideration the additional cost of disability. 

In Ontario, a single person on ODSP in a government funded group home received $1021 for years until recently, when they received two small increases, and now receive about $1300. The poverty line is approximately $2300.

Mo is lucky that he can rely on his family to supplement his cost of necessities because his group home has incrementally increased his rent, so he has very little of his benefit remaining. Some of his peers with disabilities rely on charity because there is no family to help out.

The Canada Disability Benefit can offer more for people’s basic needs, but the nuances of living with a disability in poverty can only be understood through genuine co-creation – involving persons with disabilities in creating the details of the benefit.

Disabled people in poverty need this benefit and they need it now. Disability Without Poverty is calling on the Minister of Finance to “Budget the Benefit” and reassure Canadians that the benefit will be of an adequate amount, and reach people before an election is called.  

What will the legacy of this government be when it comes to disabled people living in poverty? Will they be left hanging and wondering what comes next with a new government with new priorities?

We are ready and able to provide the necessary co-creation support needed for the system to implement the Canada Disability Benefit and get money to the people who need it most.

Let’s hurry up and regulate this benefit so that disabled Canadians in poverty can have some relief and can live with dignity.

Rabia Khedr is the National Director of Disability Without Poverty.

Michelle Hewitt is the chair of Disability Without Poverty.