OAS changes will hurt disabled

WinnipegSun.com – opinion/columnists
First Posted: Thursday, April 05, 2012.    Harry Wolbert, For The Winnipeg Sun

Canadians are by now aware that the federal government will increase the age of eligibility for the Old Age Security benefit from 65 to 67 years of age. Canadians with disabilities are more than a little concerned about how the change might affect them.

It is well documented that Canadians with disabilities disproportionately live in poverty when compared to the general population. Between 45 and 60% of those on social assistance have a disability and this number continues to rise. Many have been, and will continue to be, excluded from the current labour market unless significant new initiatives are created to remove barriers to employment. Let’s get something straight: the Old Age Security benefit is a disability issue!

Old Age Security coupled with the Guaranteed Income Supplement benefit is better than any social assistance program in Canada. Sadly, many people with disabilities are looking forward to turning 65 because they will have a better income benefit. Increasing the age of entitlement for the OAS benefit will force persons with disabilities to live in poverty longer. Is this what Canadians want?

The Old Age Security benefit, while the foundation of Canada’s retirement policy, doesn’t exist in isolation. Many other benefits are designed to work in tandem with it. This raises a number of questions for those individuals and organizations which advocate on behalf of Canadians with disabilities.

For example, will increasing the age of entitlement trigger a change in the Old Age Exemption in the Income Tax Act? And will Long Term Disability policies now extend benefits to age 67? Currently LTD claims end when an individual becomes eligible for the Old Age Security benefit. Would such a change increase premiums?

We also have some questions around the Canada Pension Plan. Will CPP benefits also change the age of eligibility? And would such a change apply to both the early retirement and full benefit?

Finally, we are concerned about how the provinces might react to persons with disabilities remaining on social assistance for a longer period of time? We are concerned that this may result in the reduction of benefits or limit future improvements.

Disabled people tend to have a lesser life expectancy. Should an exemption be made for persons with disabilities in regard to a change in age eligibility for OAS and CPP? The other long-term option as advocated by the Council of Canadians with Disabilities is for a greater federal role in a basic income support program for people with disabilities who have been excluded from the labour market. A “first step” would be to make the Disability Tax Credit refundable.

One of the current proposals for reform of the Canada Pension Plan include allowing people to claim early (currently at age 60) and continuing to work. Individuals would continue to pay premiums; however should they become disabled they would not be eligible for CPP-Disability because they’ve taken CPP. CPPD is a better benefit. Disability increases with age, working people will still pay a full premium but not be eligible for full benefits (CPPD). This doesn’t seem fair.

Our concerns are valid and deserve some answers from our elected officials.

(Harry Wolbert is a disability rights advocate)

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