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Rights + Justice

People With Disabilities in Poverty Trap, Says Report

Ranks of working poor growing; activists still awaiting poverty plan from Ottawa.

Jeremy Nuttall 12 Oct

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee's reader-funded Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. Find his previous stories here

Canada is continuing to leave people with disabilities in poverty, says a report released Thursday by Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ).

The faith-based organization’s annual report on poverty trends shows people with disabilities are more likely to be living in poverty than other Canadians.

More working adults are joining the ranks of the impoverished, the report found.

Brad Wassink, communications coordinator for CPJ, said part of the problem is that the federal government is not paying attention to impoverished Canadians as it promotes an agenda aimed at helping the middle class.

“All the talk about the middle class completely ignores people living in poverty,” he said.

The median income for people with disabilities in Canada is nearly half that of those without disabilities, and 23 per cent of people with disabilities between 25 and 64 are living in poverty, according to the report. About 13.9 per cent of all Canadians live in poverty.

Wassink said former Conservative government policies meant to ease poverty focused on employment, so those unable to work couldn’t take advantage of government initiatives. He said under the Liberals, the approach has changed a little but not much.

“People with disabilities are pretty highly represented among EI [Employment Insurance] recipients,” he said. “There's big gaps in the program there in terms of benefits.”

People are “slipping through” those gaps, Wassink said.

New Democrat critic for persons with disabilities Cheryl Hardcastle said policy-makers need to keep people with disabilities in mind when creating or working on any government program.

“Poverty and disability do seem to go hand in hand, unfortunately,” Hardcastle said. People with disabilities face many challenges not recognized by others in society, she said.

Earlier this year Ottawa consulted the public as part of an initiative to develop legislation to improve accessibility for people with disabilities.

Hardcastle said she hopes the legislation, currently being drafted, will address all the barriers blocking the full participation of people with disabilities and lead to changes at the provincial and municipal levels.

But it’s not just people with disabilities who are living in poverty.

The report found 42.9 per cent of working-age adults are living in poverty, up from 39.1 per cent in 2009.

It also found 70 per cent of people living in poverty have jobs. Precarious employment and jobs without benefits are contributing to the increased poverty, it said.

Manitoba has the highest poverty rate among provinces at 18.2 per cent, with British Columbia second at 15.3 per cent. The highest among provinces and territories is Nunavut at 29 per cent.

Wassink said a federal anti-poverty strategy is urgently needed.

He pointed to the Dignity for All campaign’s 2015 anti-poverty plan as a useful guide to solutions.

The campaign was a joint initiative among anti-poverty groups including Citizens for Public Justice, Canada Without Poverty, the Canadian Labour Congress and the Anglican Church of Canada.

It suggests the government focus on income security, health, housing, food security, employment, and early childhood education and care.

In his 2015 mandate letter to Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Jean-Yves Duclos, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau requested he develop a poverty-reduction strategy.

Two years later, a finished strategy it is still “on the to do list,” said Wassink.

He said next year’s federal budget should have commitments to fight poverty rather than “delays until an election year.”

The Liberal government did honour its campaign commitment by introducing a Canada Child Benefit in 2016 to support families with children. The Liberals said the measure would lift 315,000 children out of poverty. Wassink said it’s too soon to assess the results.

Next week, CPJ joins other anti-poverty organizations in the Chew on This! campaign to call for a national, rights-based anti-poverty plan.  [Tyee]

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