Faith Bodnar – Executive Director, Inclusion BC -Opinion Editorial – Vancouver Sun March 22, 2016
By now many are aware of the Raise the Rates, Leave the Bus Pass Alone petition and campaign that was rolled out by Inclusion BC.
We launched this campaign in response to the B.C. government’s announcement of an ill-considered attempt to improve B.C.’s Persons with Disability (PWD) income program which is currently $906 per month. The budget announcement included a $77 per month increase in benefits for everyone on PWD followed by a claw back of $52 per month and $11 per month depending on whether a person received a bus pass or a special transportation subsidy. Those who do not get either would receive the $77 and are left to sort out their own transportation. Despite a strong negative response from all sectors, government has dismissed legitimate criticism and continues to assert that “people would be a bit better off” or “life would be a little less hard” or that “it is a little extra money.” Recent damage control strategies this week saw the premier making these same condescending and offensive statements.
This petition has struck a chord with thousands and thousands of people, including those who receive PWD, their families and supporters, friends and fellow citizens, service agencies, policy experts, members of the media and an ever-growing number of community agencies. We are all stunned by a government that failed to even, at the very least, consult with people on PWD and the disability community, the result of which has become a stunning mess. We are all further astonished by a government that is so out of touch it presumed and expected the announcements would be welcomed as good news and even progressive.
What continues to be lauded by our government as a way to address the “inequity” and shamefully low PWD rates that 100,000 British Columbians are forced to live on, was nothing more than a condescending and mean-spirited exercise that failed at all levels. And it continues to fail again, again and again. This failure is only amplified by public relations efforts to clarify the “facts,” clear up “misinformation” with more and better graphs and divide the disabled community, basically reframing the information in the hopes we would all finally get it. Except nothing has worked. Why? Because we can all do the math, we understand the facts, we have done the research and we know the truth about what it’s like to live on PWD in B.C.
There are some who are suggesting that the petition and rallies are divisive. That a public display of dissatisfaction with our government lacks maturity and is unsophisticated. That by stubbornly sticking to our positions, we are outliers. That if we really wanted to “work together” we would approach these issues more collaboratively. In the flurry of political positioning, let’s not forget that the cornerstone of democracy is our right to have and organize public discussion. It is healthy and, in fact, necessary. And it is our duty to convene these conversations because this type of civic engagement leads to greater enlightenment, social justice and change.
We have being trying to inspire our governments to address these shameful rates for more than 10 years. We were all initially hopeful on B.C. Budget Day, Feb. 19, 2016. Then we unpacked the announcement and exposed the truth. This was not a serious plan to address the poverty of those on PWD. It was a token and grossly insufficient effort that rubbed salt into a huge gaping wound.
It’s time to clear up a few facts and set the record straight. B.C.’s current PWD rates are shameful and tinkering with transportation subsidies while giving a paltry increase won’t make them “equitable” nor will it make “life a little less hard.” Having a disability is not a choice. Living on PWD is not a choice. Poverty is not a choice. Giving with one hand and clawing back with the other is a choice. Refusing to acknowledge or address the abject poverty of some our B.C.’s most vulnerable citizens is a choice.
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