Make Poverty History Manitoba Provincial Working Group was pleased to submit to the provincial government’s consultation on a New Income Support Program for People with Disabilities. Please find the text of our coalition’s submission as well as a PDF link below.
Dear Minister Stefanson and the Department of Families,
Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to the consultation on a New Income Support Program for Persons with Severe and Prolonged Disabilities. We believe all Manitobans have a right to adequate income to lift them out of poverty. We support efforts to make income supports for people with disabilities more accessible with few barriers and to reflect the actual income needs to support healthy and dignified lives with full participation in Manitoba society.
We have advocated for a livable basic needs benefit that would lift the incomes of all Manitoba households to the poverty line or above. Such a benefit should complement Rent Assist to cover the non-housing related basic expenses.
Employment and Income Assistance (EIA) as it currently stands in Manitoba does not meet the basic needs of the households who rely on it. This is true of all family types, and especially for single individuals. In 2019, after the Provincial government cut the Job Seekers allowance, single person households on EIA are left with only $195 per month to cover their basic needs aside from rent (which is either covered through Rent Assist or, in the case of households in social housing, is subsidized outside of EIA).
For example, based on the national standard, nutritious food basket, the cost of a healthy diet for a single individual in Winnipeg comes to $315 per month. Food costs for those with dietary restrictions or cultural food requirements may be even higher, as are the costs for those living outside urban centres. EIA levels are so low that they force families to rely on food banks and charity to simply survive.
However, the basic needs amount covered by EIA is not only meant to pay for food. Individuals must stretch their monthly $195 to cover transportation, communication, clothing, personal hygiene products, recreation, and all the other essential costs and bills that are part of daily life in Manitoba.
Figure 1 below documents total incomes of EIA recipients in Manitoba for years 1986 to 2017. The total incomes include federal child benefits, GST rebates, provincial EIA and other recurring additional transfer payments. The table includes Rent Assist, introduced in 2015. It shows that incomes for all family types on EIA have long been below the Market Basket Measure (MBM) of poverty. Both the provincial and federal governments use MBM as an official poverty line, however, it is best understood as a measure of material deprivation. It represents the cost of a basket of goods and services seen as essential to a basic quality of life in Canada.
Inadequate EIA has been continuous for all family types throughout the period, including when both NDP and Progressive Conservative governments have held power. However, there have been notable trends, in particular a steep drop in EIA total incomes during the 1990s and significant increase in relative levels after 2013 with the introduction of Rent Assist and the Canada Child Benefit. Single individuals on General Assistance have always had the most inadequate incomes, at just over 50% of the MBM level in 2017. For every dollar in basic needs, individuals on EIA are 50 cents short in Manitoba.
Calculations for Figure 1 based on Maytree. 2019. Welfare in Canada, 2017. (Manitoba). https://maytree.com/welfare-in-canada/manitoba/
As seen in this chart, people with disabilities continue to have among the lowest incomes of any groups in Manitoba, with total annual income less than two thirds of MBM. People living with disabilities “are about twice as likely to live with low income”. The employment rate for those who are working age (25-64 years old) of 59% in comparison to 80% for those without disabilities. The disability community comprises 35% of the employment and income assistance caseload and makes up 14% of the Manitoba population at approximately 170,000 people. People with disabilities are also severely disadvantaged, generally at 60 – 70% of the poverty line. People living with disabilities often struggle to survive on a day-to-day basis due to low incomes and the lack of social supports. Approximately 50% of the employment income assistance caseload is comprised of people living with disabilities rely on EIA as a means of survival.
We offer some basic principles as recommendations:
- Any income increase for this group will be welcome. However, all family types receiving EIA have total incomes that put them a severe risk of material deprivation. A primary principle in implementing the new benefit must be that no other group is worse off or has their EIA benefits reduced. The introduction of a new benefit should also not result in more stringent conditions for entry into non-disability general assistant. In fact, we know from our experience working with people receiving EIA that many participants in the non-EIA caseload have profound barriers to employment, some of which may present greater obstacles to re-entry in the labour force than do some disabilities that may be more easily medically assessed. Any changes to disability EIA must mitigate the risk that introduction of a new disability benefit will sharpen the distinctions between deserving and undeserving poor leaving some of the most vulnerable even further behind.
- Aside from the levels of benefits, we also see there being many opportunities to reduce bureaucratic hurdles that people on EIA must suffer through. Some disabilities are permanent and do not change throughout a person’s life cycle. It is dehumanizing and a waste of resources to force those with permanent conditions to prove their status on an annual basis. A small and relatively costless change would involve greater use of digital services to make access simpler. Similarly, complicated definitions, regulations and requirements should all be re-examined and eliminated unless they contribute to the larger goals of improving quality of life and helping people transition into work if they so choose.
- The introduction of any new program must be based on recognition that people with disabilities have an ability to contribute economically to Manitoba society and right to participate in the workforce. As stated in Article 23.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
“Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.”
Opportunities for employment must continue to be encouraged, and acceptance of employment should not bar recipients from receiving future benefits. Moreover, towards this end, the punitive clawback rate of 70% on earner income should be reduced to encourage greater employment.
Once again we thank you for your consideration of this important issue. We look forward to future discussions on this topic. Towards this end we recommend that a further round of consultations take place once the department develops a concrete draft proposal for comment.
Make Poverty History Manitoba
Provincial Working Group
1 – Based on the cost of the 2011 Nutritious Food Basket (Winnipeg average) multiplied by the change in Statistics Canada consumer price index for food purchased in stores (Manitoba). Colleen Rand et al. 2012. “The cost of eating according to the ‘nutritious food basket’ in Manitoba (May 2011)”: http://www.wrha.mb.ca/extranet/nutrition/files/Professionals_Reports_FoodBasketReport.pdf; Statistics Canada. Table 18-10-0004-13, Consumer Price Index by product group, monthly, percentage change, not seasonally adjusted, Canada, provinces, Whitehorse, Yellowknife and Iqaluit.
2 – Prince M, & Petters Y., (2014). Disability, Poverty, Enabling Citizenship Retrieved from the Council of Canadians with Disabilities: http://dpec.ccdonline.ca/links/pdf/dpec_book_v02.pdf
3- Morris S, Fawcett, G., Brisebois, L., & Hughes L. (2018) Canadian Survey on Disability 2017. A demographic, employment and income profile of Canadians with disabilities aged 15 years and over, 2017. Retrieved from Statistics Canada https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/89-654-x/89-654-x2018002-eng.htm
4 – Manitoba (2018) Department of families 2017/18 annual report. https://www.gov.mb.ca/fs/about/pubs/fsar_2017-18.pdf retrieved on August 10, 2019.
5- Barrier Free Manitoba. Disabilities in Manitoba Retrieved from http://www.barrierfreemb.com/disabilitiesinmb
6 – United Nations (1948) The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. From: https://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/