Canadians with Severe Disabilities – A Basic Income Plan, 4th, On Poverty

The Caledon Institute our leading social policy think tank is at it again.  They have produced a thoughtful working report on one of the bigger handicaps faced by people with disability – poverty.  And their fundamental recommendation is to establish a basic income program for adult with disabilities in Canada that would replace the myriad (perhaps maze is a better word) of welfare and support programs that exist right now.  A Basic Income Plan for Canadians with Severe Disabilities was written by Ken Battle, Sherri Torjman and Ernie Lightman three of the smartest public policy analysts in the country.

The document describes the current situation and sets out a detailed plan to 'revolutionalize income support and services.'  Here are some excerpts:

The Current Situation

  • 2,457,940 or 11.5 percent of Canadians of working age (16-64) report having disabilities – one in nine working age persons.
  • $18 billion or 12.7 percent of a total expenditure on income security of $142 billion in Canada goes to measures aimed at persons with disabilities.
  •  Many people with disabilities − especially those with severe/very severe disabilities − have a tenuous or non-existent relationship to the labour market. The employment rate is 36.7%
  • Because many people with severe disabilities have low incomes that fall below the taxpaying threshold, they cannot qualify or take advantage of the Disability Tax Credit and other disability tax measures.
  • More than 200,000 Canadians with severe or very severe disabilities rely upon provincial/territorial welfare or upon welfare-like programs for their income and disability supports.
  • Half of Canada’s welfare caseload − 538,396 out of 1,073,064 cases is made up of persons with disabilities
  • With the demise of federal cost- sharing under the Canada Assistance Plan, in 1995, welfare programs are no longer required to meet any national objectives, standards or requirements

Their Recommendations include:

  1. Establish a basic Income Program for adults with disabilities modelled after the well regarded Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) program for low income seniors.  This would replace much of the last resort welfare programs for people with disabilities.
  2. Make the existing non-refundable Disability Tax Credit refundable. That would extend compensation for the extra costs of disability to the lowest-income people with disabilities.  The refundable credit would pay $2,000 through the income tax system to every person eligible for the Disability Tax Credit.

The authors have tried to be realistic. Implementing their recommendations would involve complicated intergovernmental and administrative arrangements.  They are however within the financial capability of Canadian governments.  Nevertheless political will is imperative: Significant new programs for persons with disabilities will only be found when there is sustained public support for reforms.  To achieve this public support will require a consensus within the community of organizations working on behalf of and representing Canadians with disabilities. 

In other words, the disability community will have to coalesce behind these proposals to ensure implementation.

The report was commissioned by the Canadian Council on Disabilities and the Canadian Association for Community Living, two leading disability rights organizations who have made poverty elimination one of their central objectives for a number of years.  They now have a tough assignment – mobilizing Canadians with disabilities, their families and organizations as a prelude to securing wider support and political will.  


Download A Basic Income Plan-People with Severe Disabilities

A French version is available here.

Related Posts:

Fighting The Crime of Poverty: The Life Work of Dr. Fred MacKinnon 

Eliminating Poverty: Senator Hugh Segal and Finance Minister Flaherty 

A Canadian Town Where No One Was Poor

This is the fourth in a series on poverty. Click Poverty to access the others.



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