Both people with disabilities and those who work within the income assistance system say the effects of provincial government policy in British Columbia are demoralizing.
Looking beyond the numbers to focus on real-life stories, the report Sharing Our Realities: Life on Disability Assistance finds a remarkable consensus between people with disabilities, income assistance workers, and the findings of the government’s own disability consultation about what ails the system and what is needed to improve the lives of people with disabilities.
The report by the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition and Citizens for Accessible Neighbourhoods surveyed people with disabilities and income assistance workers across the province and includes recommendations to increase income and disability assistance rates, simplify applications, and return to a system with individualized caseworkers rather than relying on phone and internet access.
“It is extremely frustrating to barely be able to afford internet and have the ministry moving more and more towards computer only interactions – they are the ones who keep us poor and unable to afford technology and then they force us to require it,” Terrance says in the report.
Those interviewed for the report expressed frustration with the government and its lack of meaningful action. In 2014, the BC government announced that it wanted to be the most progressive province in Canada for people with disabilities. It initiated the Disability White Paper Consultation, which resulted in over 7,500 comments, ideas, suggestions and solutions through online and in-person consultations throughout the province. The introduction to the resulting Disability Consultation Report says “our government is building a British Columbia where everyone can participate in the economic prosperity of our beautiful province.”1 The government’s actions are far from living up to this promise.
It is extremely frustrating to barely be able to afford internet and have the ministry moving more and more towards computer only interactions.
In February 2016, the BC government implemented a modest increase of $77 a month to disability assistance rates administered by the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation, while also drastically changing important programs that improve access to transportation for many people with disabilities. These initiatives affected over 100,000 British Columbians.
Prior to the changes, the BC Bus Pass Program provided an annual bus pass at a reduced cost of $45 a year for disability assistance recipients in areas where BC Transit and Translink operate. With the changes effective September 1, 2016, the cost for a monthly bus pass would be $52 or $66 per month for the Special Transportation Subsidy (the Subsidy) for those who cannot use regular transit. So the modest $77 disability assistance rate increase was actually only $25 for those using a bus pass and $11 for those receiving the Subsidy. On top of this, the government said it would charge an additional $45 per year “administrative fee.”
Before these changes, rates had not increased in nine years and people with disabilities were struggling to cover basic needs. Now, the government was giving with one hand and taking away with the other.
After much criticism, the government quietly changed the wording regarding the raise, no longer referring to the increase as $77, but rather that people on disability assistance were receiving a $25 increase with a $52 transportation support allowance. A minor concession was the government waiving the $45 a year administration fee.
The government was giving with one hand and taking away with the other.
The decision to increase the rates by such a small amount was all the more baffling considering how much information the government has about the inadequacy of rates. Disability assistance rates were one of the most commented upon issues during the Disability White Paper Consultation, whose final report reads: “One issue that arose throughout the consultation was the call for an increase in disability assistance rates.”
Throughout 2016, people with disabilities who felt they had no voice or power in this province routinely contacted Citizens for Accessible Neighbourhoods (CAN). People participated in the 2014 government consultation, but felt their comments and suggestions were ignored, written into papers, and then filed away.
In response, CAN developed a survey for people on disability assistance and ministry workers, and the resulting report, Sharing Our Realities: Life on Disability Assistance in British Columbia, provides these people with a loud and clear voice.
One issue that arose throughout the consultation was the call for an increase in disability assistance rates.
The government announced on February 17, 2017, after the survey was completed, that monthly disability rates would increase from $983 to $1,033. This is far lower than the minimum recommendations from disability organizations, the CAN survey respondents, and the government’s own Disability Consultation Report.
Shockingly, basic income assistance (welfare) rates were not increased at all in BC’s 2017 budget and remain frozen at $610 a month. Many people with disabilities must live on this dire amount of income assistance, which also limits recipients’ assets to a very low level, during their long application for disability assistance.
“I have to believe that most people don’t understand how bad it is. The alternative, that they understand and that they choose to leave it like this, is unthinkable to me. The message is that we don’t have enough for basics like food and shelter, and this makes our disabilities worse. We are losing our health. We are losing our homes. We are losing our lives. This is a crisis,” says Frank in the report.
BC is the only province that has never established or made commitments towards a poverty reduction strategy. This must change and BC must create a plan to support those on disability assistance within a comprehensive poverty reduction plan.
Read more stories in the report Sharing Our Realities: Life on Disability Assistance in BC.
- Disability Consultation Report: Moving Together Toward an Accessible B.C. A Reflection of the Voices of British Columbians Heard During the Disability White Paper Consultation, May 2014, page 5