This past June, Bill C-22 became law. Also known as the Canada Disability Benefit, the bill will provide financial support for low-income working-age disabled people. Though eligibility requirements and benefit rates haven’t yet been released, disability activists say the bill is a cause for celebration. Its passing is timely: people with disabilities in Canada are now experiencing financial difficulties so severe that medical assistance in dying has become a viable option for some.
As someone who has experience with depression and schizophrenia, I have mixed feelings about Bill C-22, however. Notwithstanding the potential clawbacks from provincial agencies — which the final legislation does not prevent — or the possibility of the bill being repealed if a different party ousts the Liberals, I fear the support Bill C-22 offers will simply be swallowed up by inflation. If the benefit cheque is only enough to cover a disabled person’s dire needs, nothing will remain for a safety net, like a savings account.
I have vivid memories of living in a small, cluttered apartment in Edmonton in the late 1990s, unable to work or even focus on reading and watching TV. Even though I was receiving social assistance, I found myself walking a thin line between being house and being houseless.
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Buying enough food every day often left me short for next month’s rent, and the cycle of poverty repeated itself. I wished for some kind of magical relief.
I was eventually able to break this cycle by pushing my limits physically and mentally, often at risk to my health. I worked as a stagehand for several years, which allowed me to start writing on the side and go back to school. I’m now proud of the fact that I’ve published several books and worked as a community education presenter, but my trajectory is the exception, not the norm. With the high cost of living these days, it’s even more difficult to break the cycle.
That’s why I feel programs to enrich the lives and well-being of disabled people in Canada should be prioritized too. More counselling. More vocational rehabilitation. More day programs. More support workers for those who have trouble functioning.
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During Senate proceedings for Bill C-22, the Honourable Marc Gold said, “We can all agree that no person living with a disability in Canada should be living in poverty in Canada.” Still, the greatest tragedy for dis- abled people is that we are largely left to our own devices — even with extra income.
Bill C-22 is a wonderful step. It is the first federal benefit of its kind in Canada, and its framework is sound. But we need to do more than give disabled people the bare minimum. We must recognize their innate value as human beings, so that they’re part of society, not apart from it.
Leif Gregersen is a writer in Edmonton.
This article first appeared in Broadview’s December 2023 issue with the title “The Fight isn’t Over Yet.”
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