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Adequate Income Policy

Policy Issue

People with disabilities face serious systemic and attitudinal barriers when it comes to accessing employment opportunities and earning an independent income. As a result, many adults with developmental disabilities require income support to meet basic living costs and to compensate for the extra costs involved in living with a disability.

B.C.'s current income assistance rates for people with disabilities fall well below the poverty line. The current benefits program does not provide sufficient financial assistance for recipients to obtain adequate food, shelter and clothing or to obtain supports for their meaningful participation in community. In addition, the program offers limited support for people who wish to find work, even on a part-time or seasonal basis, and penalizes individuals who live together.

Keeping people with developmental disabilities poor is a false economy. Living in poverty increases the risk of physical health problems due to inadequate nutrition, housing and access to health care. The social effects of poverty, including isolation, loneliness, and alienation from community life, contribute to both physical and mental health problems and can ultimately lead to institutionalization or conflict with the law. The savings created by limiting access to disability supports create greater costs in other parts of the social service system.

Our challenge is to raise the awareness of the general public and government organizations on how poverty affects the quality of life for an adult living with a developmental disability and how government income programs could work better to support the goal of inclusion.

Purpose

To ensure that all individuals with developmental disabilities have an adequate income.

Guiding Principles

  • Ensuring that all individuals with developmental disabilities have enough money for a reasonable quality of life is a collective public responsibility.
  • People with developmental disabilities should be supported to improve their quality of life.

Background

In 1996 the B.C. government eliminated the GAIN for Handicapped program and introduced the Disability Benefits Act as part of a comprehensive overhaul of income assistance in B.C. In 2002, a new government revised the legislation again to create a more restricted benefit for Persons with Disabilities (PWD) under the Employment and Assistance for Persons with Disabilities Act.

As a result of lobbying by the Ad Hoc Coalition (BCACL, the B.C. Coalition of People with Disabilities and the Canadian Mental Health Association, B.C. Division), the 1996 Disability Benefits Program Act included a definition of disability that no longer required an individual to prove they were "permanently unemployable" and had exhausted all possible avenues for retraining and rehabilitation in order to qualify as having a disability. Instead, qualification for disability benefits focussed on a person's functional abilities and needs and the ongoing costs associated with the disability. Like all income assistance recipients, applicants with disabilities were also required to demonstrate financial need.

In 2002, the government narrowed the definition of disability and required recipients to develop employment plans, though it increased the amount of employment earnings that people can keep without a deduction being made from their disability benefits (earnings exemption). The government also introduced a 23-page application form for PWD benefits.

Current disability benefit policies continue to make it difficult for people with developmental disabilities to access the program, to enjoy a reasonable quality of life in community and to receive the necessary supports they need to enter the labour market when they can.

Policy Statements

1. Income Support - Amount

The standard of living for adults with developmental disabilities should be above the poverty line and should reflect the basic cost of living and the costs associated with accommodating a disability.

2. Co-habitation and Marriage

Individuals with developmental disabilities should not have their income support benefits reduced as a result of marriage or cohabitation.

3. Earnings Exemptions: Earned and Unearned Income

Earnings exemptions* should be sufficient enough to allow an individual to meaningfully improve their quality of life. Earnings Exemptions should apply equally to earned** and unearned income.***

4. Eligibility

Eligibility for disability status in relation to income support should be based on the following: As a result of a severe physical or mental impairment a person requires extensive assistance or supervision to perform daily tasks within a reasonable time, or has unusual and ongoing expenses for transportation, special diets, or other unusual but essential and continuous needs. Disability status, once established, should be a lifelong designation, through periods of employment and unemployment. Once disability status is established, eligibility for benefits at any point in an individual's life should be determined by financial need.

5. Paid Work

People with a developmental disability who are employees should receive the standard wage and benefits associated with their position, and never less than minimum wage. Government benefits other than income (e.g. medical, dental, transportation) associated with disability income supports should continue fully through periods of employment when equal benefits are not provided by the employer.

*earnings exemptions: the amount of income individuals can earn before their disability benefits are reduced.

** earned income: money received from paid work, renting out part of your home, or a tax refund.

*** unearned income: includes any other source of income including pension benefits, employment insurance, training or education allowances, interest or income from a trust, gifts, winnings, and contributions from family/friends.