But advocate says legislation is 'knee-jerk reaction' that uses flawed metrics
The federal government is rebooting legislation to establish a framework for a new Canada Disability Benefit (CDB) for working-age Canadians with disabilities.
Ottawa has reintroduced the Canada Disability Benefit Act, which was first introduced in June 2021 but did not pass first reading.
CBD – alongside Old Age Security, the Guaranteed Income Supplement and the Canada Child Benefit – will become an important part of Canada’s social safety net and could significantly reduce poverty for hundreds of thousands of Canadians, according to Ottawa.
“We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to correct the long-standing social and economic exclusion that is the lived experience of far too many people with disabilities in our country,” says Carla Qualtrough, minister of employment, workforce development and disability inclusion. “We can seriously reduce poverty and improve the financial security of working-age Canadians with disabilities.”
The coronavirus pandemic has negatively affected plenty of employees but for those with physical or mental health challenges, a lack of support on the job has exacerbated the issues, according to a previous study.
More than six million Canadians aged 15 and over – equivalent to 22 per cent of the population – identify as having a disability, according to the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability. And it is expected actual numbers are likely higher, according to the federal government.
And Canadians with disabilities – including women, men, LGBTQ2 people, racialized people and Indigenous people – are more likely to be financially insecure than other Canadians.
In fact, just 59 per cent of Canadians with disabilities aged 25 to 64 are employed, compared to 80 per cent for those without disabilities.
Also, Canadians with milder disabilities aged 25 to 64 earn 12 per cent less than Canadians without disabilities, while those with more severe disabilities earn 51 per cent less, says Ottawa.
In a June 2021 release, Ottawa said the benefit “would supplement, not replace, existing federal and provincial-territorial supports with a goal of lifting hundreds of thousands of persons with disabilities out of poverty.”
But this legislation is a “knee-jerk reaction” to the “outpouring of complaints by persons with disabilities in Canada regarding the rate of poverty among our community,” says Lance Lattrulo, founder, CEO and chairman of ABILITYscaled, via LinkedIn.
While the generally accepted Canadian statistics place 59 per cent of disabled people near the poverty line, the number is actually above 80 per cent, judging by metrics used by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United Nations (UN) and the World Health Organization (WHO), he says.
“The government is using a medical model of disability to define this legislation, not a social model of disability which is the benchmark for all UN/WHO/OECD agreements, conventions and declarations,” says Lattrulo. “Bill C-35 and its derivative being proposed does not comply in any way with signed international agreements (Accession of UNCRPD, Canada 2019).”
Budget 2022 proposed to provide $272.6 million over five years to support the implementation of an employment strategy for persons with disabilities through the Opportunities Fund, which will increase labour market participation by persons with disabilities and make workplaces more inclusive and accessible.
Also, in March, Ottawa launched a competitive call for proposals for funding of $6 million annually, for a total of up to $18 million over three years, from national disability organizations through the Social Development Partnership Program – Disability (SDPP-D) component. With that funding, the government is looking to accelerate the work that several organizations do to eliminate barriers to accessibility and inclusion faced by the disability community.
In 2021, Ottawa announced a $3 million-investment through the National Workplace Accessibility Stream for the Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work (CCRW) and its Accommodation and Inclusion Management (AIM) program, so employers can build healthy and productive workplaces.