Don’t delay federal disability benefit

Posted on November 12, 2022 in Inclusion Debates

Source: — Authors: – Opinion/Editorials
Nov. 7, 2022.   By Star Editorial Board

Ottawa needs to work out the details of new disability benefit in public, and in consultation with Canadians with disabilities.

It’s a reality that many of us could find ourselves living with a disability. According to data from the most recent Canadian Survey on Disability, we might not be prepared for what awaits us.

While 80 per cent of able-bodied people between 25 and 64 years of age are employed, just 59 per cent of those with disabilities have jobs, and less than half of Canadians with severe disabilities are employed.

Even when people with disabilities find employment, they remain at a disadvantage compared to their counterparts, as their median incomes fall below those of able-bodied Canadians.

The result of these statistics is predictable: Ten per cent of able-bodied working age adults live below the poverty line, compared with 14 per cent of those with mild disabilities and 28 per cent of those whose disabilities are severe.

And while it’s hard enough finding adequate food and shelter when you’re living below the poverty line, people with disabilities often have to shell out additional cash for mobility aids like walkers and wheelchairs. According to the survey, one million Canadians reported being unable to afford assistance devices.

Things have become so bad, in fact, that anecdotal reports suggest some people with disabilities are actually contemplating a medically assisted death — not because of pain, but because they can’t afford to live.

That doesn’t sound like Canada. And it must not be Canada. We have enough money to provide an income supplement to disabled people who need it, which is why the federal government must pass the Canada Disability Benefit Act (Bill C-22), with some modifications and without delay.

There have, after all, been enough delays already. Originally introduced as Bill C-35 in June of last year, the bill died when the election was called, and a virtually identical bill was introduced in June of this year. The bill passed second reading in October and is now in committee.

This week, the committee commenced public hearings and has heard repeatedly the importance of fast-tracking it, especially since Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Carla Qualtrough said it might take a year after passage to develop necessary regulations.

Now that said, the bill isn’t perfect. The benefit won’t be available to seniors, even though they comprise roughly one third of disabled Canadians. Indeed, 38 per cent of those over 65 and 47 per cent over 75 live with disabilities, and while they’re eligible for certain benefits, including the Old Age Supplement and the Guaranteed Income Supplement, they’re still more likely to live in poverty than able-bodied Canadians: While six per cent of Canadians over 65 live below the poverty line, seven per cent of those with mild disabilities and more than 10 per cent of those with severe disabilities do so.

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance highlights other problems with the bill, including the fact that it’s frustratingly short on details. It doesn’t detail “the size of the benefit, when it will start, how much if any will it be increased due to inflation, and who is eligible for it.”

All of these details are left up to cabinet, along with the ability to gut or cut the benefit at will. Qualtrough has defended this on the ground that the bill is “framework legislation,” with details to be outlined in the regulations. But since the devil is in the details, Ottawa needs to work them out in public, and in consultation with Canadians with disabilities.

That shouldn’t take long since Ottawa has been working on the benefit since it committed to the Disability Inclusion Plan in the speech from the throne more than two years ago. And since it’s been more than two years, passing the law shouldn’t — nay mustn’t — take any longer either.

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