Wednesday, December 3, 2014

December 3rd is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, a day when we celebrate the contributions of persons with disabilities in our communities, and commit to removing barriers and creating an inclusive and accessible society for all.

Canadians with disabilities commonly face severe challenges finding adequate and secure incomes. People with disabilities have lower employment rates and higher rates of under-employment than Canadians as a whole. They are at greater risk of living with low incomes than Canadians in general. The Daily Bread Food Bank's Who's Hungry report finds that the share of people with disabilities using food banks has nearly doubled since 2005 (from 17% to 28%), and the HungerCount 2014 report reveals that nearly one in five households using food banks depends on disability-related benefits as their primary income source.

The structure of disability benefits compounds the problem: for instance, the Disability Tax Credit is a non-refundable tax credit, meaning that persons with disabilities need a certain level of income in order to benefit from the tax credit in the first place. The Canada Pension Plan (CPP) disability benefit requires that a disability be severe and prolonged, making it difficult for Canadians suffering from fluctuating and episodic disabilities (like multiple sclerosis) to access the CPP disability benefit.

To make matters worse, the federal government has moved to make it harder for Canadians living with disabilities to access Canada Pension Plan disability benefits. Having carried out no studies to justify the creation of a new tribunal, the Conservative government's April 2012 omnibus Bill C-38 replaced the Office of the Commissioner of Review Tribunals (OCRT) and the Pension Appeals Board with the Social Security Tribunal (SST).

The Pension Appeals Board had hundreds of referees hearing appeals, but the government replaced it with a tribunal with less than 70 full-time members, half of whom heard CPP and OAS (Old Age Security) appeals—all in a bid to save money. Not only was the SST intended to achieve savings of $20 million a year (which it has done), but it was also designed to accomplish a 25-per-cent reduction in the number of appeals heard. As a result, the tribunal's 7,000 inherited appeals have swelled to a backlog of 11,000 cases, with the tribunal managing to hear less than 350 income-security appeals in the first year of operation. There have been no implementation of standards for processing appeals in a timely manner.

The government's new budget implementation bill rescinds the original cap on full-time tribunal staff and removes restrictions on the hours of work of part-time staff, but this comes as too little, too late.

CPP disability benefits, like CPP retirement benefits, are too low to enable Canadians to live in dignity in retirement. The maximum amount that a CPP disability beneficiary can receive is 75% of the retirement benefit they are entitled to, plus a flat amount ($457.60 in December 2014). For someone entitled to receive the average monthly CPP retirement benefit ($540.56 in October 2014), this works out to just $863.02 a month. 

Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) is calling on the federal government to agree to a fully-funded, phased-in doubling of future CPP benefits to achieve retirement security for all Canadians, including Canadians with disabilities. The labour movement’s plan also aims to increase the Guaranteed Income Supplement, which would have a significant impact on people with disabilities who have had lower incomes or who have been unable to work.

The CLC, its affiliates and federations of labour are partnering with provincial and territorial governments, pension experts, political parties, retirees and seniors’ groups and other allies across the country to raise awareness about Canada’s retirement crisis and the movement’s call on government to double CPP benefits. Together they will be hosting a series of public town hall meetings on retirement security.