Canadian provinces must join effort to help lift people with disabilities out of poverty

According to Food Banks Canada’s HungerCount 2023 report, people receiving provincial disability support represent 13.6 per cent of total households accessing food banks. 

HungerCount 2023 set alarm bells ringing that the percentage of people receiving provincial disability support in the food bank population is disproportionately high compared to the percentage receiving disability support in the general population, an indication that across the country disability benefits do not cover the costs of basic necessities.  

Due to completely inadequate rates of support, the proportion of food bank visitors who rely on disability support compared to general population levels is shocking.  

In 2022, only 4.3 per cent of the population in Ontario was receiving provincial disability support and 30 per cent of food bank users indicated disability support as their main income source.  

The numbers peaked in Alberta, where people receiving disability supports (AISH) — a program that provides financial support to people who have disabilities or other medical conditions that will likely permanently limit their ability to earn a livelihood – were 840 per cent more represented in food banks than the general population. 

THE CHALLENGE OF TODAY 

People with disabilities have been experiencing disproportionate levels of hardship as the costs of their greater health care needs are compounded by rapid inflation.  

A 2022 report by the Maytree Foundation found social assistance rates are so low that all household types receiving social assistance live below the poverty line in almost every province and territory.  

Further, the results of a study conducted by the Environics Institute on behalf of Food Banks Canada indicated that in 2023, in the general population, 28 per cent of those with a physical disability and 39 per cent with a mental disability reported going hungry in the previous 12 months because of lack of money for food, compared to 10 per cent of people without a disability.  

“Social assistance rates do not match the rising cost of living. Single people living alone have particularly limited access to adequate levels of social assistance, while single-parent families face unique challenges due to lack of affordable/accessible childcare hindering their ability to work. All of this is exacerbated for people with disabilities; it is an all too common belief among elected officials that ‘the best social assistance is a job,’ but this is especially untrue for folks who are unable to work (and may never be able to work) due to a disability.”

– Survey respondent, Ontario

While the federal government has taken some small steps to address the social safety net this year with the passage of the Canada Disability Benefit Act, in a worst-case scenario, Canadians won’t see the implementation of this act’s regulations until halfway through 2025. 

An even bigger concern for this bill rests with the challenge that the federal government will face in finding harmony with the provinces, and what the bill will do in terms of putting real dollars into the hands of people who cannot afford to wait any longer.  

Acting to lift people with disabilities out of poverty is not something Canadian provinces can delay or cut back on when the federal government introduces new funds.  

Collaborative action must be taken to ensure both the federal and provincial governments are contributing to bringing an end to food insecurity and poverty for those living with a disability. 

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