Late last year, a federal government committee met to hear directly from persons with disabilities living in poverty
One hundred and fifty-three separate submissions were provided in support of the need for the federal government’s proposed Bill C22, also known as the Canada Disability Benefit, which would provide a much-needed income supplement to Canadians with disabilities.
The Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities (HUMA) heard these submissions and responded with a number of amendments to strengthen the Bill which has just recently been adopted by the House of Commons and moved to the Senate for consideration.
But lost in the long, bureaucratic process are the actual voices of persons with disabilities. These voices need to be heard by all Canadians as Bill C22 winds its way through legislative red tape.
They spoke about employment.
Patricia Scrafield talked about the challenges and expenses faced by disabled people when they apply for jobs and sums it up by saying: “to be disabled IS to work hard,” while Barbara Rose stated the simple fact: “I am poor because I’m disabled and can’t work.”
They spoke about the reality of the poverty line.
Allan Mills from Extend-a-Family Waterloo region said that “when a doctor diagnoses a disability, Canada responds by providing a prescription for poverty. It’s really that simple, automatic, and tragic.”
Laurie Molin says that living in poverty is more than a statistic: “What those numbers omit, however, are their families that struggle alongside them…It can be difficult for us, but the webs of income instability go beyond ourselves. Everyone is [a]ffected,” and goes on to describe the isolation poverty creates.
They spoke about the lack of food and healthy nutrition.
The Daily Bread Food Bank collected comments from a number of disabled people. One person said they can’t remember the last time they ate an apple or a salad, while another said they only eat one or two meals a day and without the food bank they’d have no food for eight or 10 days a month.
Mitchell Tremblay shared that, “this past September I turned 40 and with no other way to celebrate I ran a GoFundMe for emergency grocery support.”
They spoke about the lack of dignity in their lives.
Angela Browne said people with disabilities are tired of having to deal with “last resort” welfare type programs that strip them of their dignity. Paul Hutlet talks of being legislated into poverty for his seven years as a disabled person, saying these years “have been filled with demeaning, demoralizing and retraumatizing experiences, not only due to my disability, but due to navigating my way through Canada’s unrepairable four decade old disability and income support system.”
They spoke about suicide and Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD)
Paul Martin says, “how many of the disabled are not being heard because they do not have someone to assist them in giving them a voice, or have simply given up[?] For some, life as it is, is simply not worth living and suicide emerges as yet another issue.”
Sarah Baker links Bill C22 to her decisions on MAiD, saying “the decisions made during this process and it’s outcome will be a high factor in whether or not I apply for Medical Assistance In Dying due to the added mental health issues from living in abject poverty for years.”
However, they also spoke about hope.
Returning to Barbara Rose, she talks of her hope for the Canada Disability Benefit, saying “I hope the creation of this bill will help end the poverty I live with and give me the ability to live and enjoy life as we all in our society deserve to do.”
Time is of the essence.
We cannot take any more time on these bureaucratic processes than is absolutely necessary, because to do so would be a dishonour to those disabled people who continue to live in poverty.
We must remember these voices, remember these people who have shared their most personal stories in the hope for the most basic chance in life – to live without poverty.
Michelle Hewitt is the chair of Disability Without Poverty. She is a PhD candidate at UBC Okanagan, examining why some younger disabled adults have no other option than to live in long-term care facilities unsuited to them, and she lives in the Central Okanagan with her husband and their dog.