The Every Canadian Counts Coalition hopes you and yours are coming through this third wave in hope and optimism as summer arrives and vaccines makes their way into ARMS.
In this edition we examine the significance of the new Disability Benefit in the context of post COVID recovery as a major step forward and what it may mean for the future of disability insurance.
Our final sections present our most recent activities and developments within the context of a federal government continues to roll out its programs and policies of Inclusion and social reform - from expanded eligibility for the Disability Tax Credit to MAID. We focus on our Stories Project and hope you will join us in this important information gathering opportunity.
Finally, for the first time we openly ask for your financial support. We are growing, and to meet obligations we need funding.
The Disability Benefit and Disability Insurance
The issue of poverty linked to disability has been on the table since the deinstitutionalization process began some 50 years ago. COVID made it even more pressing recently however, and to the government's credit - and great activism in part falling out of the mobilization that occurred in creating the Accessible Canada Act - they are now looking at this disability benefit as a way of finally addressing the poverty/disability issue. It is one component of the current COVID Recovery Plan.
There are a couple of principles for this proposed Benefit.
First is that it is a 'top up'. It is not intended to replace any existing support program but to supplement it, like the GIS for Seniors. Secondly, it will be means tested, i.e., above certain incomes it will be taxed back. Areas of uncertainty exist as with who qualifies for this new benefit. Presumably, like the GIS it goes to those federally registered for financial support, as with the CPP Disability. But will it be more inclusive? Will there be broader access such as that proposed for the disability tax credit? To complicate the issue, how this rolls out regionally will be subject to negotiation with the Provinces as will the issue of who gets included. What is not up for discussion are other public policy options such as disability insurance. That it seems, awaits another day.
Where does this leave advocacy for disability insurance?
First, for advocates of disability insurance, this Benefit is welcomed, reassuring and needed.
Secondly, the negotiating processes established to operationalize this Benefit will lay the groundwork for when the time comes to implement any form of an insurance plan. It is institutional strengthening of a fundamental and important kind.
But with this Disability Benefit (Income) program there remains a couple of challenges. First, how is this disability support program different from a basic income program such as that recently tried (temporarily) in Ontario? Should it be integrated into a basic income plan – perhaps a pilot- and thereby join with those advocating for such, or should it be different based on special circumstances? If it does the latter, then it will be because it identifies special needs. Then it becomes (partially) a disability support program catering to special needs. The result of that could well be reduced income effect and weak disability support effect.
The second challenge relates to the consultation process. The budget allocated for creating this Disability Benefit is 11.5 million dollars. Presumably this represents the cost of undertaking outside of government engagement and mobilizing related resources.
Consultation is a form of research, and for that to be deemed successful it will be important that the process is accessible to as many Canadians as possible and that it be an open discussion. Such openness will undoubtedly lay bare the many issues that face persons with disabilities, likely including not just the chronic issue of poverty but also the lack of meaningful supports.
For the Every Canadian Counts coalition the issue of chronic underfunding of support services for persons with disabilities remains. However, the publicly funded disability insurance plan as a public policy option has been a focus of activism in Canada for only the last 5 years, unlike the 50 years of activism on accessibility and poverty. But is the time right for this to be put on the agenda?
Meanwhile, In Australia
Bruce Bonyhady, a founder and first ED of the Australian National Disability Insurance Scheme - the NDIS – relates how the NDIS was created because an income focused disability benefit was not enough. He notes:
“In Australia, before the introduction of the NDIS, the then Commonwealth Government undertook a comprehensive Pension Review which included a review of the Disability Support Pension (DSP), which is the income support provided to people with disability in Australia who cannot work. There are then so-called "taper" arrangements which provide for a reduction in the DSP as income from employment increases. In addition to an income test there is also an assets test for the DSP. Effectively, through the DSP the Government provides a guaranteed level of income designed to be sufficient to enable people with disability to live above the poverty line. The DSP and age pension have the same maximum amount and the same income and assets tests.-Bruce Bonyhady
However, people with disability face much higher costs than the general population and the NDIS is designed to provide the funding to meet these individual needs. Therefore, any income guarantee in Canada would also need to be tailored for it to be fully effective.
This issue was considered as part of the Pensions Review in 2009 and you will see in Finding 23 an acknowledgement that the DSP could not possibly provide an adequate income guarantee for all people with disability. This Finding was one of the key building blocks on which the case for the NDIS was built.”
Is It Now Canada’s Turn?
With accessibility and basic income for persons with disabilities now being addressed, albeit with work still to be done, will the community be ready to move to the next stage and tackle the perpetual and growing problem of waiting lists for disability services? Will there be a plan to truly meet the needs. Can we ‘Insure Us to Ensure Us’ - that a secure and supportive future exists for those with chronic disabilities. That is the challenge ahead.
Issues and Actions
Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID).
Helping people live takes precedence over helping people die. For persons with disabilities MAID legislation on its own is an alarm bell, if not a nightmare. Every Canadian Counts is of the view that if MAID is to be an instrument of last resort, then make sure there are supports for people to live life to the fullest first - and we are not doing that now for persons with disabilities. A strong, well managed disability insurance regime and framework can not only provide the supports to live life to the fullest, but can ensure any decisions regarding MAID are in keeping with a person’s dignity and wants. Without such a plan of supports MAID is an ethically and morally compromised piece of legislation. This is the message we have been conveying in our interactions with decision makers and more positively, the decision makers we have talked to agree.
Actions and Engagements:
DCIF (Disability Confidence in Finance), an initiative administered through the CCRW – the Canadian Council of Rehabilitation and Work. ECCC is a partner in this and has participated in discussions with the project team outlining our shared objectives. More recently, ECCC participated in a the first of General and Support Partner Quarterly Meetings where the emphasis was on communications and the state of tool kit development 1 . Disability Insurance could provide the essential supports needed for fostering work place confidence in any arena.
Disability and Work Group on Reforming Government Programs. The working group focuses on how to move forward on three key elements of the Pan- Canadian Strategy for Disability and Work developed by the Disability and Work in Canada (DWC) initiative. 2
The three elements are:
- Reform the array of government programs for persons with disabilities so that the system is user-friendly, coherent, easy to navigate and inclusive.
- Unbundle income benefits and employment supports a poverty reduction lens to guide the design of income and employment benefits.
- Use a poverty reduction lens to guide the design of income and employment benefits.
For the Every Canadian Counts Coalition a disability plan is the most efficient, effective and comprehensive way to address all these issues simultaneously and we have been making that case with the Group.
1 For further information on this initiative visit: https://www.ccrw.org/welcome-to-finance-toolkit/ 2 The Strategy document is available at the Centre for Research on Work Disability Policy (https://www.crwdp.ca/en/dwc-strategy) and the Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work websites https://www.ccrw.org/supporting-background-documents-to-the-dwc-strategy/
Rising Youth. The Every Canadian Counts Coalition, as the lead organization representing the disability sector, is proud to renew its relationship with this exciting and important initiative. Rising Youth ( https://www.risingyouth.ca/) Rising Youth is a program led by TakingITGlobal to help youth build Canada and develop life skills by giving back to their communities. Created for youth by youth, they are building a program to increase involvement through community service. Under the agreement, ECCC agrees to support outreach and promotion of the #RisingYouth grants to our youth networks, with a goal of securing 5+ grant applications in addition to other activities.
Stay Tuned: We will be calling for young people to bring their ideas to us in the very near future.
Social Security Tribunal
The SST is an independent administrative tribunal. It hears appeals from Canadians when they disagree with the government’s decision about their Employment Insurance (EI) benefits, Canada Pension Plan (CPP) benefits, CPP disability benefits, and Old Age Security (OAS) benefits, including the Guaranteed
Income Supplement (GIS). It could serve as a model for as appeals process related to disability insurance decisions and hence is of interest to the Coalition.
The Stories Project
This Project, led by Board Member Hubert Van Niekerk is intended to tell the stories of the challenges persons with disabilities face in their day to day lives because they simply do not have the supports they need, but could have under different circumstances.
We are most appreciative to Rose Russo for one such story;
THE ROSE RUSSO STORY-ROSE RUSSO
I am a parent of two children, a son 22 and a daughter 21 on the autism spectrum. They have experienced and continue to encounter many barriers to living a full life: social and adaptive challenges, difficulties accessing regular health care, learning and access to the community. These difficulties have become more profound now that they are both adults out of the school system.
Their care and upbringing have presented challenges throughout the course of their upbringing…: profound communication disorder, adaptive challenges, need for strict adherence to structure and routine, direct, structured and intentional support and guidance for learning and accessing the community that was needed. … being non-verbal and thinking differently has presented huge challenges to learning ….
…my son in particular appears to have entered a stage either brought on or exacerbated by the pandemic of mental health challenges. He has demonstrated much greater intelligence than was first believed and it is likely that the years of being excluded and disconnected from his peer group as well as being limited in learning opportunities and his communication deficits have likely been impacting his mental health for much longer than we would have ever believed. My daughter is in a similar situation, but she adapted by embracing being a lone wolf to reduce her anxiety and try to maintain certainty that way. She now finds herself in the same situation as my son looking down a difficult road through life. Additionally, their communication disorder prevents them not only from the expression but also from the initiation of a complex conversation on how and what they are feeling.
They require support and advocacy for all aspects of their health care. There have been some challenges to accessing health care it appears because of a flawed perception of people with disabilities and inequalities created by prejudices and possibly the belief that access to care is not equal to all individuals.
I did not work for the first 19 years after my son was born. When I returned to work it was only part-time and now that they are both out of school and we are going to go through the very challenging process of attempting to create a housing plan that allows them to live in their own home, it is going to be even more difficult. Being out of school and both being home full-time makes it impossible for me to consider working at all. I currently spend about 90% of my day attending to their needs particularly now that we are in a pandemic.
If there were sufficient support available, I would be able to hold a job and I feel my physical and mental health would be under less duress. I am 53 years old, my husband is 63 and we are looking at a very difficult time into old age.
With support and accommodations in training, my children could do volunteer work. I am especially concerned about additional challenges automation and the digital economy may create in further limiting the already meagre choices that they may have any chance of pursuing for work, paid or otherwise.
There is a point where I would consider being a "paid" caregiver (if that were available), however, now in my 50's I would also have to consider where I would need the financial support but would no longer be able to perform the role. It would be helpful for me to know that I could be considered for a pension supplement due to the fact that I have been a career parent/caregiver. ……….
I would like to see a system for disability support with the provincial and federal governments working in tandem and providing "whole life" support across all portfolios and Ministries: social services, health, education, housing. There are cracks everywhere in the system and gaps where my children fall through or are simply not considered or provided for adequately.
One of the most pressing areas for which we would like to see funding is housing and housing supports to allow supported independent living and move definitively away from congregated and institutional care.
It would be good to see self-advocates and individuals with disabilities on boards or otherwise providing input and participating in policy decision making and shaping a better system.
Thank you so much to you and your group for spearheading this initiative.
Send your story to; firstname.lastname@example.org . If you would like us to send you a basic template for thoughts and ideas to help put this story together, we would be happy to send it your way.
ECC is Growing
The Every Canadian Counts Coalition is pleased to welcome Barrier Free Canada3 as official supporters. This award-winning organization advocates for the Canadian Parliament to enact a strong and effective Canadians with Disabilities Act (CDA) to achieve a barrier-free Canada for all persons with disabilities. We look forward to the collaboration.
Every Canadian Counts in a non-profit organization that has operated thanks to a small group of dedicated volunteers for the last 5 years. But as is evident here, we are growing and spreading, and with that is the need for more resources.
Also, and perhaps more importantly, disability insurance, as a public policy option, is gaining more traction and the need to engage the broader public becomes more imperative. That too requires resources.
ECCC is looking for donations to help us do all this. Please visit our website and www.everycanadiancounts.com and hit the DONATE button on the top right.