Hot! Scrapped mandatory census cuts even deeper for disability advocacy group

TheGlobeandMail.com – News/Politics – Disability advocacy groups have major challenge ahead following cuts to the census and StatsCan’s disability survey
Published on Saturday, Jul. 24, 2010.   Campbell Clark, Ottawa

Making the long-form census voluntary instead of mandatory is not the first change to the way Statistics Canada collects data since the Conservatives took office. Several surveys have been discontinued.

The Participation and Activity Limitation Survey, Statscan’s major data collection on individuals with disabilities, was cut by the government department that paid for it, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.

The Harper government has told advocacy groups a census-related survey that gathers statistics about disabilities will eventually be replaced by a database culled from tax information, welfare rolls and similar databanks – but there’s skepticism about whether that information will be as reliable.

“We’ve got a huge challenge here. We had something that was working,” said Laurie Beachell, national co-ordinator of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities. The government has promised the new database will provide information more often than PALS, which was conducted every five years, with the next one scheduled for 2011. “We don’t know how reliable it will be yet,” Mr. Beachell said.

The people who received the PALS questionnaire were those who reported a disability on their census form. Because of the high response rate of the mandatory census, it was thought to be a representative sample.

Questions have been raised about whether voluntary surveys get a good response rate from people with disabilities. People in low-income brackets tend to respond less to voluntary surveys, and a disproportionately high number of individuals with disabilities have low incomes. Advocacy groups want data that not only indicate where people with disabilities live, but allow them to track whether disability policies are effective, and whether there are unidentified problems.

Gathering information from administrative databases can be useful, but none are as comprehensive as PALS: Information based on how many people claimed disability tax credits would not include those who didn’t file tax returns, and the provinces use different definitions of disabilities on their welfare rolls.

“The databases will only give you a picture of some people,” Mr. Beachell said.

Other surveys cancelled under Harper government

The Workplace and Employee Survey was cut in 2009. It was the only major source of information on job vacancies, health benefits and private pension plans.

The Survey of Financial Security, which tracks the distribution of assets and debts across regions, income groups, age groups and family types, was deemed unnecessary. Some observers say, like the workplace survey, the financial security survey is especially useful after a major financial crisis.

The Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Canada, which tracked people from their arrival through their first few years in Canada, was discontinued. The survey was created a decade ago because information on how newcomers fare in their early years is very limited.

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