Sharing Our Realities report | Day of Action | Open Letter | Timeline of Action | Letters to MLAs | City Council Resolutions | Media | Share
Sharing Our Realities: Life on Disability Assistance in British Columbia
Citizens for Accessible Neighbourhoods (CAN) and the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition co-authored a report released April 13th about the demoralizing effects of provincial government policy for both people with disabilities and those who work within the income assistance system.
Looking beyond the numbers to focus on real-life stories, Sharing Our Realities: Life on Disability Assistance in British Columbia finds a remarkable consensus between people with disabilities, income assistance workers, and even the findings of the government’s own disability consultation about what ails the system and what is needed to improve the lives of people with disabilities. The report, which surveyed people with disabilities and income assistance workers across the province, includes recommendations to increase income and disability assistance rates, simplify applications for income and disability assistance, and return to a system with individualized caseworkers.
“The message is that we don’t have enough for basics like food and shelter,” said Frank, who receives disability assistance, “and this makes our disabilities worse. We are losing our health. We are losing our homes. We are losing our lives. This is a crisis.”
Throughout 2016, Citizens for Accessible Neighbourhoods (CAN) was routinely contacted by people with disabilities who felt they had no voice or power in this province.
“People had participated in the 2014 government consultation, but felt that their comments and suggestions were ignored, written into papers, and then filed away,” said Heather McCain, Executive Director of Citizens for Accessible Neighbourhoods and the co-author of the report.
In response, CAN developed a survey for people on disability assistance and ministry workers, and the resulting report, Sharing Our Realities, aims to provide that voice, which is loud and clear.
Provincial Day of Action
After the huge show of community support for the Open Letter signed by over 160 organizations, we have basically had no response from the government. All the government has done is to eliminate the $45/year administration fee and shift the language slightly, now calling the change a $25 increase plus a $52 “transportation allowance.” As the government’s changes took effect effect on September 1st, 2016, we teamed up with the Together Against Poverty Society to coordinate rallies across the province to keep the pressure up.
Nanaimo – Wednesday, August 31, 11:00AM to 1:00PM, Location: Corner of Wallace and Campbell Street
Richmond – Thursday, September 1, 12:00PM to 1:00PM, Location: Theresa Watts, Constituency Office, Suite 300-8120 Granville Ave. Organized by Richmond Poverty Response Committee and Richmond Centre for Disability.
Victoria – Thursday, September 1, 12:00PM to 1:00PM, Location: Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation (MSDSI) Office, 908 Pandora Street. Organized by Together Against Poverty Society, BC Disability Caucus and Action Committee of People with Disabilities.
Maple Ridge – Thursday, September 1, 12:00PM to 1:00PM, Location: MSDSI Office, 22522 Lougheed Highway. Organized by Maple Ridge Raging Grannies.
Vancouver – Thursday, September 1, 11:00AM, Location: MSDSI Office, 2350 Commercial Drive, Note: Meet at Commercial Skytrain Station for March to MSDSI office. Organized by BC ACORN and Raise the Rates.
Kamloops – Thursday, September 1, 1 PM to 1:30PM, Location: MSDSI Office, 631 Seymour Street. Organized by Kamloops and District Labour Council.
On May 18th, we released the following Open Letter to Premier Christy Clark signed by over 160 organizations from across BC:
Dear Premier Clark:
We are writing in response to your government’s budget, tabled on February 16, 2016, which announced a modest increase of $77 to persons with disabilities benefits while also drastically changing important programs that improve access to transportation for many people with disabilities. For the reasons set out in this letter, our organizations strongly oppose the changes to the BC Bus Pass Program and the Special Transportation Subsidy. We call on the government to leave these programs in place, and to provide a meaningful rate increase for all income assistance and disability assistance recipients.
The BC Bus Pass Program currently offers an annual bus pass at a reduced cost of $45 per year for disability assistance recipients in areas where BC Transit and Translink operate. The Special Transportation Subsidy provides a lump sum subsidy to people who reside in an area where the Bus Pass Program operates, but are unable to use public transit because of a disability, to help offset the cost of alternative transportation. Approximately 55,000 of the 100,000 provincial disability assistance recipients rely on one of these two transportation programs. Many of our organizations work directly with people with disabilities, and all are acutely aware of the importance of these programs to ensure people are able to move about their communities, whether that be to shop for basic necessities, attend medical appointments, go to school, or take part in social gatherings.
As you know, those who rely on these programs will now be charged $52/month for a bus pass, or $66/month for the Special Transportation Subsidy. This means that for those recipients, the rate increase is actually only $25 or $11, respectively. Further, the government has said that it will still charge the $45 per year “administrative fee” on top of that. Promoting the change as a $77 increase to disability rates is misleading and unfair. While the government maintains that its aim is to make the system fairer for people with disabilities who do not currently receive support for transportation, the proposed changes are not the right approach.
It has been almost a decade since the government has increased income assistance and disability rates—and at $906 per month, disability assistance rates in BC are among the lowest in the country. In Alberta, for example, the government increased the comparable disability benefit (Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH)) to $1588 in 2012. The recently announced $77 increase to BC’s disability assistance rates would be a welcome (if inadequate) change, if it were truly providing that increase to all.
When the change was announced, the Honourable Minister of Finance Michael de Jong spoke about how it would allow those on disability assistance “the freedom to make their own choice about how to meet their own unique transportation needs”. For many living in poverty in BC, this is not a real choice. While the $77 increase will undeniably help those living outside the areas where the Bus Pass Program and Special Transportation Subsidy operate, it creates an impossible choice for those that do rely on these transportation programs. With disability assistance frozen at a paltry $906 per month—an amount clearly inadequate to meet basic needs—it will be difficult not to opt to put the $77 each month toward previously unmet needs like food or rent. The Bus Pass Program and Special Transportation Subsidy allowed vulnerable members of our communities to make a $45 purchase once per year, and then have a reliable method of transportation year-round. The proposed changes to these programs will result in social isolation for those who “choose” not to renew, particularly for those with disabilities that restrict their mobility.
Finally, we are concerned about implementation of the proposed changes, which will inevitably be fraught with practical problems for both disability assistance recipients and Ministry staff. Over the last several years, there has been a radical shift from in-person services at local Ministry offices to services that are primarily delivered through a centralized phone line and over the internet. Wait times on the phone line are long, and many users of Ministry services lack the reliable phone or computer access required to access the services—and may also lack the capacity to navigate the new systems. It is difficult to reach Ministry staff at all, let alone the appropriate staff for a particular matter. Many that rely on the current transportation programs fear they will be unable to access Ministry staff in a timely way to resolve the issues that arise, and that staff will be ill-equipped to address the problems.
As our provincial government tabled its budget, it celebrated BC’s strong financial outlook. Minister de Jong emphasized that BC is in a position to “offer greater support to the most vulnerable among us.” It is long past due for the government to make real commitments to do just that – and to share some of this province’s wealth with the members of our communities that need it most.
Our organizations collectively urge you to:
- Bring back the $45 per year bus pass for people with disabilities;
- Eliminate the new $52/month bus pass fee;
- Allow everyone receiving PWD benefits to keep the $77/month increase;
- Bring back the Special Transportation Subsidy, and introduce a rural transportation subsidy for those living outside the areas where the Bus Pass Program and Special Transportation Subsidy operate; and
- Raise income and disability assistance significantly by October 1, 2016 to reflect the cost of living, and then index to inflation.
c. Hon. Mike de Jong, MLA, Minister of Finance
Hon. Michelle Stilwell, MLA, Minister of Social Development and Social Innovation
John Horgan, MLA, Leader of the Opposition
Michelle Mungall, MLA Nelson – Creston
See the Press Release here.
Take Action: Sign Inclusion BC’s petition to Raise the Rates, Leave Our Bus Pass Alone.
Timeline of Action
February 16th, 2016: BC Government tables budget announcing a modest increase of $77 to persons with disabilities benefits while also cutting important programs that improve access to transportation for many people with disabilities
February 18th, 2016: Inclusion BC launches the “Raise the Rates, Leave our Bus Pass Alone” Petition.
February 24th, 2016: BC ACORN organises “Poverty Rates Kill -ACORN action to increase BC PWD rates” a short march starting from Burrard station and finishing at a ministry office located at 1050 Pender St
March 2nd, 2016: Rallies are held simultaneously at noon in Victoria, Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster and North Vancouver.
March 9th, 2016: Representatives from Inclusion BC and TAPS (Together Against Poverty Society) hold a news conference on the steps of the BC Legislature before delivering the petition to “Raise the Rates, Leave our Bus Pass Alone” with over 15,000 signatures (online and hand-written) to the Hon. Minister Michelle Stilwell’s office.
March 20th, 2016: Citizens for Accessible Neighbourhoods encourages people with disabilities to contact MLA Suzanne Anton in-person, by email and through letters with how they will be affected by the changes on a day-to-day basis.
March 23rd, 2016: Disability advocates including Inclusion BC meet with Social Development Minister Michelle Stilwell.
April 1st, 2016: Raise the Rates BC organizes “9 Years, No Raise?! March, Rally & BBQ to Raise the Rates.”
April 13th, 2016: BC Disability Caucus hosts a “Raise the rates/Return our Bus Pass” Rally in front of the BC Legislative Assembly.
April 18th, 2016: BC ACORN applauds NDP’s stance on reinstating the $45 dollar/year bus pass, and encourage the NDP to put forward a motion to raise the rates for PWD recipients to $1800/month to bring the rates above the poverty line.
May 18th, 2016: Over 160 organisations release an Open Letter to the Premier and hand deliver it to MLA Michelle Stilwell, Minister of Social Development and Social Innovation.
June 28th, 2016: BC ACORN organizes action at MLA and Cabinet Minister Suzanne Anton’s community office in Vancouver.
September 1st, 2016: As a part of a Day of Action, rallies are held across the Province as the changes are set to take effect.
October 13, 2016: BC ACORN members gathered outside of the Office of Social Assistance and Social Innovation in Whalley and then marched to the Surrey Central Skytrain Station to call on the province to raise social assistance and disability rates above the poverty line.
December 3, 2016: On the UN’s International Day of Persons With Disabilities and the 10th anniversary of the UN’s Covenant on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, BC ACORN members gathered in downtown Vancouver to call on Christy Clark and the BC Liberals to raise PWD rates and restore the disability bus pass.
February 21, 2017: BC Government announces $50/month increase to disability rates.
February 25-March 4 2017: A week of action for a Poverty Free BC including Rally End Poverty & Deprivation of BC’s Disabled & Poor organized by the BC Disability Caucus.
April 13, 2017: The Sharing Our Realities: Life on Disability Assistance in British Columbia report, co-authored by the Citizens for Accessible Neighbourhoods and the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition, finds a remarkable consensus between people with disabilities, income assistance workers, and even the findings of the government’s own disability consultation about what ails the system and what is needed to improve the lives of people with disabilities. The report, which surveyed people with disabilities and income assistance workers across the province, includes recommendations to increase income and disability assistance rates, simplify applications for income and disability assistance, and return to a system with individualized caseworkers. The report is co-sponsored by the BC Disability Caucus, BCGEU, Together Against Poverty Society and Raise the Rates.
Letters to MLAs
March 4, 2016: Richmond Centre for Disability letter to MLA Teresa Wat about the minimal increase to the Persons with Disabilities rate and the huge increase in cost of a bus pass for each PWD.
March 21, 2016: Richmond Centre for Disability letter responding to MLA Teresa Wat’s email.
March 24, 2016: Richmond Poverty Response Committee letter to Premier Clark regarding the Persons With Disabilities Bus Pass fee increase.
City Council Resolutions
March 10, 2016: Victoria City Council pass a resolution requesting that the BC Bus Pass benefit and Special Transportation Subsidy for people with disabilities be reinstated.
April 11th, 2016: Richmond City Council endorse a letter submitted by Richmond Poverty Response Committee calling for raising the rates and reinstatement of the bus pass.
May 11th, 2016: New Westminster City Council pass a resolution requesting that the BC Bus Pass benefit and Special Transportation Subsidy for people with disabilities be reinstated.
Sharing Our Realities: Life on Disability Assistance in BC (Policy Note April 27, 2017)
Sense Of Place With Minelle Mahtani – Heather McCain (Roundhouse Radio, April 19, 2017)
Young and disabled people suffering in B.C. (Global News at 6, April 13, 2017)
Evenings with Kirk LaPointe – Heather McCain (Roundhouse Radio, April 13, 2017)
OP/ED: Report Highlights Desperate Circumstances for People Living on Disability Assistance in BC (Nelson Daily, April 13, 2017)
Disability rate increase criticized (Nelson Star, February 22 2017)
BC Gov’t Hikes Disability Rates by $50, Maintains Freeze on Welfare (The Tyee, February 21, 2017)
Stephen Hume: Meagre provincial hike to disability assistance an insult (Vancouver Sun, February 17, 2017)
Disability aid rates to rise $50 a month starting April 1 (Times Colonist, February 17, 2017)
B.C.’s disability assistance rate hike merely a ‘pittance’ (Vancouver Sun, February 17, 2017)
Province’s ‘incredibly disappointing’ disability rate increase panned by disability advocate (CBC News, February 17, 2017)
Advocates say boost in disability assistance payments falls short (TalkRadioAM640, February 17, 2017)
Editorial: Robbing Tiny Tim to Pay Scrooge (Vancouver Sun, January 20, 2017)
Disability payments should be boosted in next B.C. budget, advocates and experts say (Vancouver Sun, January 13, 2017)
Disability payment not enough in B.C. (The Parksville-Qualicum Beach News, January 12, 2017)
On International Day of Persons with Disabilities, protesters say B.C. isn’t doing enough (Global News, December 3, 2016)
BC disability benefits still leaving people below poverty line: advocate (NEWS 1130, December 3, 2016)
“We don’t want a hand out, we want a hand up”: BC ACORN members demand increase in social assistance rates (Roundhouse Radio, October 14, 2016)
BC residents protest disability funding changes (p. 4) (Island Tides, September 22, 2016)
Minister should be doing more for the disabled (Times Colonist, September 18, 2016)
Disability assistance changes not a huge step forward: advocates (Campbell River Mirror, September 13, 2016)
Negative reaction to Liberal’s disability bus pass increase (CHEK News, September 12 2016)
B.C. minister wins fifth gold at Paralympic games amidst disability assistance criticism (Metro News, September 11 2016)
Fee prompts 3,500 people with disabilities to give up bus passes (Times Colonist, September 11 2016) Also published in The Vancouver Sun
Editor’s column: Assistance rates shows our own disability (Richmond News, September 9 2016)
Richmond’s disabled community protests poverty-level assistance rates (Richmond News, September 7 2016)
Disability increase amounts to $11 extra per month for 20,000 British Columbians (CBC, September 2, 2016)
Province-wide protests mark day of increase in B.C. disability benefits (The Georgia Straight, September 1 2016)
Protests decry loss of subsidized bus passes (24 Hours, September 1 2016)
BC Almanac on BC’s new disability assistance rates (CBC, September 1 2016)
Maple Ridge protest over increase to disability income (Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News, September 1 2016)
Liberals Stand Pat, Raise Price of Bus Passes for Disabled Riders (Nelson Daily, September 1 2016) Also published in Castlegar Source, The Boundary Sentinel, The Trail Champion, and The Rossland Telegraph
Kamloops protesters rally against new bus pass fees for people with disabilities (Infotel News, September 1 2016)
Small gathering to protest disability benefits (CFJC Today Kamloops, September 1 2016)
Disability changes hurt vulnerable, critics say (NewsKamloops.com, September 1 2016)
Noon rally planned for Thursday in Maple Ridge (Maple Ridge & Pitt Meadows Times, August 31 2016)
Critics slam bus pass clawback as disability assistance rates set to rise (CKNW, August 31 2016)
Bus-pass clawback adds insult to injury (Times Colonist, August 31 2016)
Cutting bus-pass a miserly move (Times Colonist, August 31 2016)
B.C. disability rates go up September 1 (CBC, August 31 2016)
B.C. disability rates go up, but so do transit passes (CBC The Early Edition, August 30 2016)
Disability benefits cut by bus-pass expense (Times Colonist, August 30 2016)
Food or Bus Pass? Clawback Creates Hard Choices for British Columbians with Disabilities (The Tyee, August 22 2016)
New West woman urges government to rethink bus pass plan (New Westminster Record, August 18, 2016)
BC’s Profound Moral Failure on Disability Rates (The Tyee, August 15 2016)
BC Liberals Pick-Pocket the Poor and Provoke Outrage (The Volcano, August 3 2016)
Friday Fail File Special Edition: The disability bus pass debacle (Laila Yuile, July 8 2016)
Editorial: Knock down disability barriers (The Vancouver Sun, June 15 2016)
More than 160 organizations write to Premier Christy Clark opposing changes to bus passes for people with disabilities (The Georgia Straight, May 24 2016)
Nelson group opposes bus pass changes (Nelson Star, May 24 2016)
Poverty groups continues to pressure government over BC Bus Pass changes (The Nelson Daily, May 22 2016) Also published in Kootenay Planet and the Castlegar Source
Nelson group part of open letter to the province (EZ Rock Kootenay-Boundary, May 19 2016)
Two meals a day: Disabled live on less as prices rise in Vancouver (Thunderbird.ca, April 20 2016)
‘I can’t afford a bus’: clawback of disability benefits sparks protest (Times Colonist, April 17, 2016)
Groups unite to call for higher welfare and disability rates (The Mainlander, April 4 2016)
Groups unite to call for higher welfare and disability rates (Raise the Rates Press Release, April 2 2016)
Disability advocates meet with B.C. minister over clawback to free bus pass (CBC News, March 23 2016)
Opinion: Pittance paid to disabled (The Vancouver Sun, March 21 2016)
Disabled protesters say B.C. bus pass fee ‘mean’ (Global News, March 2 2016)
Protesters call for more disability support (Victoria News, March 2 2016)
Disability advocates protest B.C.’s ‘bus pass clawback’ (Vancouver Sun, March 1 2016)
B.C. Liberals fail to act with regressive clawback, low disability assistance increase (Rabble.ca, February 26 2016)
B.C. clawback an attack on people with disabilities (24 Hours, February 22 2016)
Michael J. Prince: Disability rates won’t alleviate poverty (Times Colonist, Feburary 19 2016)
B.C. disabled community denounces ‘mean-spirited’ hike in bus-pass fee (The Globe and Mail, February 18 2016)