Canada failing to support ill, disabled: study

MontrealGazette.com – Business – System in ‘crisis’. Inadequate network needs reforms, OECD urges
Postmedia News September 30, 2010.   By PETER O’NEIL

Canada’s unique form of federalism has resulted in an overly complex, cumbersome and inadequate support system for the sick and disabled that makes them even more incapacitated and dependent, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said in a report released yesterday.

The federal and provincial governments need to launch a major reform initiative that should include consideration of a devolution of federal support programs to the provinces, the OECD said.

“Poverty is already an issue for persons with disabilities and could become a major challenge for Canada as the effects of the crisis continue to unfold,” concludes the report from the Paris-based research body, funded by 33 developed democratic countries, including Canada.

“The timing is ripe in Canada for strong employment-oriented structural reform.”

There is a total of 2.36 million Canadians age 20 to 64, including the unemployed, who describe themselves as having a chronic health problem or disability that hampers their daily activities, the OECD report’s lead author, Christopher Prinz, said yesterday.

The report includes statistics indicating the disabled have twice the rate of unemployment as other Canadians, and close to 20 per cent of Canada’s sick and disabled are neither employed nor receiving any public benefits.

That latter figure is roughly in line with the United States figure, almost double the mark in Britain and Australia, and close to four times higher than the rates in France, Ireland and Denmark.

“This is an enormous burden on families,” Prinz said.

The report also shows Canada has a “severe” problem of high poverty rates for disabled people, with one-third living in households earning less than 60 per cent of the median household disposable income.

The OECD said applicants seeking benefits find themselves being bounced like tennis balls between federal and provincial programs.

The report suggests a one-stop-shopping network so applicants no longer have to struggle through a “maze” of programs and agencies offering “scanty” information. It suggests a devolution to the provinces of the administration of federal programs.

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