Inadequate disability supports make the message clear: Your government will help you die, but not live with dignity

Posted on June 5, 2022 in Social Security Debates

Source: — Authors: , – Opinion
June 5, 2022.   By Rabia Khedr, Nick Saul, Contributors

People who rely on disability benefits can no longer afford to live. And with the legalization of medical assistance in dying, some are choosing not to.

In March 2021, the federal government legalized medical assistance in dying for Canadians living with a disability, regardless of whether natural death is inevitable. One year later, many are considering this route — not because they want to die, but because they can’t survive on their income.

The message is clear: your government will help you die, but not live with dignity.

In Ontario, a single person on disability support receives a maximum of $1,169 per month. This is supposed to cover all basic needs. Take a moment to add up your monthly expenses. Exactly, it’s not even close.

There’s a similar story in British Columbia, Quebec, and other provinces and territories. No matter where you live, disability income supports are woefully inadequate.

Through the eDemocracy platform, Ethelo, Canadians with disabilities share their experiences. One person writes: “My rent is the amount that I receive. To have food, I must borrow. It is so stressful. It makes my (multiple sclerosis) worse.”

We heard from someone who spends 30 per cent of their monthly Ontario Disability Support Program income on medication alone. “How am I supposed to live on that and feed my child and myself?” they asked.

The toxic combination of inadequate income supports and skyrocketing inflation means that people who rely on disability benefits can no longer afford to live. And some are choosing not to.

Yet, there is a solution — and it’s already in front of us.

In the 2020 throne speech, the federal government promised to introduce a new Canada Disability Benefit. The benefit would be a direct monthly payment for low-income Canadians with disabilities aged 18-64, adding to existing provincial and territorial income supports.

The government also vowed to make the benefit permanent through a bill called the Canada Disability Benefit Act. But due to the 2021 federal election, momentum slowed. The Liberals showed continued commitment while campaigning, then, until this week, fell silent.

We can do better. We must do better. And we need to act now.

The country agrees. A 2021 Angus Reid survey showed that 89 per cent of Canadians are in favour of a federal disability benefit. Recently in the House of Commons there was all-party support to establish a Canada Disability Benefit without delay.

We’re not surprised that Canadians care about this issue — but we are surprised by the length of time it’s taking to make this lifeline for 1.5 million people a reality.

Parliament breaks for the summer on June 23. Bill C-22 was reintroduced on June 2. It’s an encouraging step, but we need to keep the pressure on. We can’t afford further delays or a lengthy consultation process; now is the time to take action.

Let’s ensure that Canadians with disabilities living in poverty are not forced to choose between paying the bills or applying for the right to die.

Rabia Khedr is the national director of Disability Without Poverty. Nick Saul is the CEO of Community Food Centres Canada.

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