I used to be embarrassed about living in disability related poverty. I would never talk about it, and I would certainly never post about it online. The stigma in itself is enough to worry about, let alone the actual repercussions of what poverty means for one’s mental and physical health. I was embarrassed because it took away a good amount of the dignity which I once had the privilege to enjoy. You know, like being able to go to the dentist or buy new underwear. Poverty, relative or absolute, will make your world smaller. You just can’t relate to others in the same way. You can fall into the trap of believing that it is your own fault, your poverty.
But here’s the thing. I’ve realized that I should not be embarrassed about my poverty. If anything, I should be proud. I still have love in my life and a roof over my head. I am fighting for change. I am… alive. All of this is quite literally due to the fact that I am privileged enough to be born in Canada, as even relative poverty here does not compare to the absolute poverty of other geographical locations.
We can go into the rabbit hole thinking this way, though, that we are lucky to be in poverty in Canada instead of elsewhere. No poverty has dignity, and any and all poverty is against the human rights of any individual, regardless of location.
So if not me, who should be embarrassed?
Canadian federal and provincial government and policy makers, that’s who. They know full well the levels of poverty in this country and the disproportionately high representation of disabled people in that category. Even though we have different systems to constitute what exactly “poverty” means and no official poverty line in Canada, (we have the market basket measure, the low income cut off, and the low income measure), it is still astoundingly clear.
It is clear what needs to be done and what policies need to be updated here. I am not saying that it is easy, but I am saying that they know what is happening and continue to choose to not make it a priority. Let’s be clear, it is a choice. We know, without a doubt, that the benefit systems; federal, provincial, or territorial only average out to 40% below the poverty line for Canadians with disabilities.
Read that again. 40% below the poverty line for Canadians with disabilities.
So believe it or not, I was skeptical to hear Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada, including the proposal of a new disability benefit system as part of the recent throne speech. “A new Canadian Disability Benefit modeled after the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors”.
On the surface, it surely sounds promising. This could be quite literally life saving depending on the amounts. It would mean longer lasting health and fewer decisions between rent and medication and food. It would mean something closer to dignity. There is a big difference between actually seeing this benefit roll out and them merely mentioning it, though (and I understand that is what a throne speech is, but you know what I mean).
I am skeptical because promises have been made for decades without much actual change to poverty levels of disabled Canadians. I refuse to celebrate the mere mention of disabled people in the throne speech. It is too low of a bar.
When there is some concrete reform to benefit systems which include more mental disabilities and disabling chronic conditions for eligibility, full marriage equality, the right to community living (the choice to live outside of institutions), and making benefit systems AT LEAST at the poverty line or above, then we can start to talk.
Until any such changes gets implemented, we will continue to advocate for reform, and please understand this; disabled people will continue to get by because of our own care networks and dedicated support systems, and not because of the Canadian government.