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BC announces 2017 Disability Benefit rates: How will $1.61/day improve the lives of British Columbians with disabilities?

Summary: 
Inclusion BC has been working to advance the Premier's promise to make BC the most progressive province in Canada for people with disabilities by 2024. Friday’s surprise news of a $50/month hike to PWD benefits, on its own, does little to advance the plan, raising the question: Is this it?

February 17, 2017

New Westminster, BC—– How does $1.61/day improve the lives of people with disabilities in British Columbia and put us on track to being the most progressive province in Canada for people with disabilities by 2024?

That’s the question Inclusion BC is posing to the BC government following Friday’s surprise early announcement of a $50/month increase effective April 1 to the $983 Persons With Disabilities (PWD) benefit. The monthly stipend, which currently amounts to $31/day, is meant to cover all living costs, including food, shelter and transportation, for British Columbians who can’t work because of disability.

“We thought we were engaged in a collaborative process, but we have no idea where this came from or how they arrived at this number,” said Faith Bodnar, Inclusion BC's Executive Director. "Any increase is of course welcome but on its own, this is a token gesture, so we need to see what’s the rest of the plan to see how we can move forward together from this.”

The announcement follows a new report showing that BC effectively implemented years of “stealthy” cuts by freezing PWD rates, so that people with disabilities could afford less each year. University of Victoria public policy professor Michael Prince showed that $1,218 in monthly purchasing power had been lost since the rates were last increased in 2007.

Friday’s announcement also raised the question of how BC Premier Christy Clark plans to deliver on her promise to make Canada the most progressive province in Canada for people with disabilities by 2024. BC’s disability rates are far below poverty levels and rank fifth out of 10 provinces, behind Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec. BC’s disability rates also significantly lag the $1,264 federal disability pension for seniors.

“Where is the plan to close the gap? And if not now, when?” asked Bodnar. “We have a massive fiscal surplus in this province. All that’s standing in the way is a compassion deficit.”

“Our vision is a province where we all truly belong," she added. "Maintaining a lower subsistence rate for adults with disabilities compared to the federal disability pension sends the message that they are second-class citizens, which is not consistent with our values as British Columbians.”   

Following an effective freeze since 2007, BC raised PWD rates by $77 in 2016. But clawbacks for new monthly disability bus pass fees left transit users with a $25/month increase. That prompted a public outcry as people with disabilities took to the streets and online forums in protest.

Inclusion BC was among the voices leading the outcry, but agreed to halt all public advocacy on this issue last summer, when Minister for Social Development Michelle Stillwell invited parties to work on a collaborative solution instead.

Inclusion BC and other advocates backed a plan to raise the rates gradually to $1,500 over three years, with indexing to match inflation.

“We would have happily stood beside the minister today to commend her for announcing an interim step towards that,” Bodnar said. 

“We all have a duty to work towards making the Premier’s 2024 commitment a reality and we will continue to do everything we can towards that goal," she added. "However, this announcement betrays the spirit of collaboration and the people we represent, who will be deeply disappointed."

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Contacts

Faith Bodnar, Executive Director
Inclusion BC
604.764.2591 (cell)
fbodnar@inclusionbc.org

Dawn Steele, Communications 
Inclusion BC Communications
604.374.1530 (Cell)
dsteele@inclusionbc.org