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Canadians with Disabilities Live at or Below the Poverty Line

March 19, 2014

According to the Globe and Mail, most Canadians with disabilities live at or below the poverty line. Approximately one in seven people have a disability and some of those people earn less than $21,000 per year. In Canada, the term poverty means that people spend approximately 60 per cent of their income on food, shelter and clothing. With an income below or at the poverty line, there is no room in the budget to invest in quality of life, savings, transportation and educational opportunities.

Disability Reform – Increasing Disability Tax Benefits 220x300 Canadians with Disabilities Live at or Below the Poverty Line

Canadians with Disabilities Face Barriers That Lead To Low Income

Recently, the Canadian government released the first report investigating how Canadians with disabilities are faring under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was adopted four years ago. The findings clearly state that Canadian citizens with disabilities face sizeable barriers to many aspects of their lives. The report states that persons with disabilities in Canada still face such barriers as “language and communication, learning and training, and safety and security.” Many of these barriers are a direct function of low income.

In addition to living at or below poverty level, people with disabilities also incur additional costs that they must pay in order to participate in the Canadian economy. The requirements vary in time and price. As Disability: Socio-Economic Aspects and Proposals for Reform indicates, “various programs are in place to compensate people with disabilities for these additional costs but those who are employed must often cover most of the expense themselves and be compensated to some extent through the tax system… Most provinces and territories do not provide supports to those ineligible for social assistance, thus giving an incentive for people to remain outside the labour force.”

Unemployment, a Major Problem for Canadians with Disabilities

The report was a collaborative approach between federal, provincial and territorial governments and outlines that un- and underemployment among Canadians with disabilities is still a major problem. Improving economic well-being will increase opportunities to participate more fully in society and maximize their potential.

It also outlines how this approach is an ongoing, multi-faceted and multi-partner approach. However, the Globe claims that instead of adequately outlining the challenges that Canadians with disabilities face, it provides a listing of “federal and provincial programs and initiatives aimed at helping Canada’s disabled citizens participate in everything from organized sports to post-secondary education and the justice system.” Unfortunately it does not include real evaluative or strategic criteria for building the workforce and employability among people with disabilities. In addition, lacking from the report are the success rates of the initiatives that it lists, making it a barely usable tool for those stakeholders who are interested in making concrete changes to eliminate poverty amongst people with disabilities.

Is Government Funding the Answer?

At this time, the Globe states that “Ottawa allocates $222-million annually to the provinces and territories to design and deliver programs aimed at strengthening employment opportunities for those with disabilities. The money is to be matched by provincial and territorial governments for the next four years. In last week’s federal budget review, the Conservative government also announced $15-million over three years for the Canadian Association for Community Living for its new job-creation strategy.”

However, without a concrete strategic plan for success, there is a legitimate concern that the funds Ottawa allocates to bolstering employment and job skills/education training will not be used effectively. Instead, there is a growing fear that it will be used to create more bureaucracy (caseworkers, consultants, trainers, analysts) without actually addressing the issue of poverty.

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