TOWARD ADEQUATE INCOME ASSISTANCE FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES IN BRITISH COLUMBIA

I disagree. Spreading out the disability payment increases to 2024 allows other priorities to crop up and the government could designate the funds be spent elsewhere. Children don’t stop growing. Life doesn’t slow down. I am struggling NOW to adequately care for my growing teenage son with food, hydro, public transit, clothing and shoes. My oldest child just left home and she’s struggling with the same costs and finding affordable housing and adequate employment. I remember what it was like when I moved away from home 30 years ago, it was a lot easier then for youth. The added stress of all of these things doesn’t help my health. Click here to read the full article or an excerpt below.

 

The increase to the disability income assistance basic rate does not fully compensate for the decline in the real value of benefit due to cost of living increases since the last benefit increase in 2007/08. In fact, income assistance for a person with a disability in BC declined in real value from $12,634 in 2008 to $11,416 in 2015, a decline of $1,218 in constant 2015 dollars. 7 The recent annual increase of $924 does not offset, therefore, the overall erosion in the purchasing power of the disability assistance. There is still catching up to do, never mind moving forward on realizing the 2024 vision.

Table 2 below depicts the gap between the maximum income assistance to a person on disability income assistance with the MBM by community size across the province. In 2014, the latest year for which the MBM is available, that represented $11, 416, a rate well below the threshold for meeting the basic costs of living for a person with a disability. Relative to the MBM, income assistance ranged between 58 to 67 percent of the income required to meet the necessities of living, the rate being the lowest in the larger urban areas where housing costs are substantially steeper than in other parts of the province. The evidence is clear: income assistance rates are poverty level rates. People with disabilities on social assistance are poor by any conventional measure of low income and endure straitened circumstances of living. Unlike basic income assistance, people on disability assistance are generally there for many years – so they are being forced to live at these poverty level incomes for a long time. As the degree of severity of disability increases, so does the risk of poverty.9

table-2

The public policy goal should be to eliminate, by 2024/25, the gap between disability income assistance and the actual cost of basic living in the province. This is one solution to reduce, progressively, the number of British Columbians living in poverty. Disability income assistance should be adequate to cover, as determined by a Market Basket Measure (MBM), the tangible costs of shelter, food, clothing and footwear, transportation, and household supplies in the local community.

Table 3 below outlines an elementary framework from 2017/18 through to 2024/25 for raising the basic rate of disability assistance to provide a far more adequate and dignified standard of living for many persons with a disability and their families in BC.10 The fiscal plan, as outlined, involves an initial few years of significant investments followed by a series of more modest yearly increases in the basic rate designed to reach, by 2024-25, an amount ($19, 800). This amount would be far more adequate and help close the gap with the MBM.11 The budget cost ($380 million spread across the first four years, $488 over the final four) is based on an annual average caseload for disability assistance of around 100,000 in the initial years of this period. The caseload is assumed to rise to approximately 115,000 by the early 2020s due to the aging of the population and longer life expectancy for individuals with disabilities.

table-3

A related reform proposal is to index the basic amount so that disability assistance benefits automatically adjust each year to the cost of living in the province. This reform would ensure a degree of stability in the purchasing power for food, shelter and clothing. This means the value of the basic monthly amounts shown in Table 3 would be modestly higher, depending on when indexation occurs and, of course, what would be the actual rate of inflation, as reflected in the market basket of basic goods and services.

CONCLUSION

People with a disability living on income assistance are among the poorest and most marginalized citizens in our province and our country.

To tackle their systemic disadvantage and indignity, a bold plan of social policy is called for as we approach the May 2017 provincial election.

The next provincial government should develop a plan to take the appropriate steps that need to be taken to achieve the commitment to make BC’s disability assistance system the best in the country by 2024.

As well, these reforms to disability income assistance must be part of a package of wider reforms that focus on personal supports, training and employment, accessibility and workplaces that are more inclusive.

 

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