Disabled and living on next to nothing

My brother Timothy was diagnosed with Pervasive Development Disorder, not otherwise specified, at the age of four, a disability that has altered his life as well as those in his family through no fault of his own. PDD-NOS is a form of autism that involves delays in the development of basic skills, particularly speech and social interaction. As Tim was the firstborn, my sister and I just accepted his limitations and made exceptions when needed. His disability was never an issue financially while he was growing up but, once he reached the age of eighteen, his options for becoming an independent working adult were limited.

Each province or territory in this country has support programs for disabled people, ranging from income supports, employment supports as well as assisted living supports. I will concentrate on Ontario and Newfoundland in particular, as Timothy has resided in both provinces.

When comparing the rates of income support for the disabled between the provinces and territories, there are obvious disparities in the funding. In 2012, an individual living in Ontario with a severe or prolonged disability would have received $13772 a year while, in Newfoundland, they would have received $10846. Whereas, in the Northwest Territories, a disabled individual would have received $21524, which is almost double that of Newfoundland. Each province and territory has its own cost of living expenses, such as housing and food, and provincial and federal funding reflects the disbursement of funds to cover these expenses for disabled individuals. Disabled persons are supposed to be able to provide themselves with housing, food, clothes and other necessities of life on a much smaller budget than that of an adult without a disability regardless of which province that they live in and that is wrong. Disabled persons are living on support payments that are well below the poverty line and cannot financially take care of themselves.

Graph showing the total welfare incomes for a single person with a disability in Newfoundland

Source: Caledon Institute of Social Policy, Welfare in Canada 2012

Graph showing the total welfare incomes for a single person with a disability in Ontario

Source: Caledon Institute of Social Policy, Welfare in Canada 2012

The federal and provincial governments should make it a priority to improve the standard of living for disabled individuals but, in the end, it is always the most vulnerable individuals who lose out. In 2012, the Conservative government eliminated the National Council of Welfare as a cost saving measure.[1] This Council spoke out on social policies that affected people living in poverty in Canada. It was arguing for increased spending by the federal government for low-income earners and the programs to support them, including the disabled.

Coalition of Persons with Disabilities logo

In Newfoundland, the Coalition of Persons with Disabilities, a non-profit, charitable organization promoting the welfare of disabled persons, is constantly fighting an uphill battle to stay open. In 2013, this group almost had to shut its doors due to a lack of funding from the provincial and federal governments. CODNL main role is to provide information, education and awareness for all persons with a disability. Its works as an advocate for all disabled persons by endorsing a network of organizations that helps to eliminate barriers affecting the disabled and to introduce more opportunities to enrich their lives.

In Ontario, the Liberal government has eliminated the $100-a-month Work-Related Benefit from the Ontario Disability Support Program, a program that allowed disabled persons to work part-time and not be penalized on their support payments. Where is the incentive for them to work now if any money that they make part-time will be deducted from their support payments? Although this seems like a very small dollar value, many disabled individuals relied on this extra income to stretch their budgets each month.

RDSP logoThere are incentives in place for disabled individuals that provide financial relief but they must first be aware of their availability. All disabled persons are allowed to use the disability tax credit on their federal tax return to reduce the amount of income tax that they must pay as long as they have a severe or prolonged impairment that has been notarized by a doctor. This non-refundable tax credit provides some assistance for disability costs that a disabled person may incur. Another relatively new program that was introduced in 2007 and implemented in 2008 was the Registered Disability Savings Plan. With this plan, the federal government will match and sometimes exceed the contribution amount from the owner with grants and bonds, up to a maximum limit of $200,000. It is typically a parent or family member who owns the plan and makes the contributions and it provides long term financial security for the beneficiary, a disabled family member. Unfortunately, the number of disabled persons making use of this government-subsidized program is only 15% of the approximately 643,000 individuals who are eligible.[2]

My brother Timothy lives a comfortable life with my parents and wants for nothing. Whatever his support payments do not cover, my parents pay for happily. Unfortunately, that is not the case for every disabled individual in Canada. Many disabled adults struggle every month to pay their rent, buy their groceries and still have a bit left over for life’s other necessities. The federal and provincial governments need to be more proactive towards the issues, both financially and socially, plaguing the lives of disabled persons. It is only through social and economic reforms to the underfunded welfare system that Canada’s disabled community can attain their independence and undeniable rights.

 -Kate Hoskin

[1] Laurie Monsebraaten, “Federal budget 2012: Ottawa axes National Council on Welfare.” The Toronto Star, 30 March 2012, News section.

[2] Plan RDSP, “Registered disability savings plans:  why don’t more have them?” RDSP, http://www.rdsp.com/2015/02/28/registered-disability-savings-plans-dont-cbc-news/.

Further Readings:

Canadian Human Rights Commission. “Report on Equality Rights of People with Disabilities,” Government of Canada.                                                                       http://www.chrc-ccdp.ca/eng/content/report-equality-rights-people-disabilities

Battle, Ken, Sherri Torjman, and Anne Tweddle. Welfare in Canada 2012. Ottawa: Caledon Institute of Social Policy, 2013. http://www.caledoninst.org/publications/pdf/1031eng.pdf

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