By Evelyn Forget and Sheila Regehr
Last month’s throne speech committed to the creation of a new Canadian Disability Benefit for persons with disabilities—that’s good news. The details remain vague, but some disability advocates have long championed a Basic Income for people with disabilities.
The newly announced Disability Benefit may offer a step toward that reality. Basic Income is a guarantee that no Canadian will have to live on an income far below the poverty line. It is not a replacement for necessary public services, but rather a federal government cash transfer made directly to individuals that would replace provincial income assistance and supplement the incomes of the working poor.
Critics of Basic Income have watched their debating points topple one by one before mounting evidence. It costs too much? No less an authority than the Parliamentary Budget Office showed that Canada has the resources to pay for a well-designed Basic Income during normal times and, even during the pandemic, a Basic Income would cost less than the alternatives.
It’s bad for women? For Indigenous people? Not according to the Report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women that called for a Guaranteed Livable Income for all Canadians, or the coalition of 4,000 organizations and individuals who have called for a Basic Income to address gender inequity.
Bad for workers? Not according to the Steelworkers Union. Basic Income encourages people to work less? There is no evidence whatsoever that overall work effort will fall; experimental evidence, in fact, suggests some people will work more, and many people will invest in job training to improve their future prospects.
Now some critics have claimed that Basic Income will take resources away from people with disabilities to give money to people who don’t need it. Nonsense.
Some people with disabilities require income replacement which they currently receive through provincial disability programs. Others receive support through the Canada Pension Plan; this program depends on previous work history and has an obligation to current workers and recipients. Basic Income would replace the complex, bureaucratic provincial disability income with a higher guaranteed income and provide a top up for those with other income who still fall below the poverty line.
Some people also require assistive devices, such as wheelchairs, hearing aids, prescription drugs, medical supplies or specialized services. Currently, these items are supplied or subsidized through a variety of federal and provincial programs. These programs would remain in their current or modified form, available to people with disabilities in addition to Basic Income.
In other words, Basic Income would mean more money for persons with disabilities, not less.
Basic Income replaces money; it doesn’t replace needed supplies and services. With increased money, people with disabilities can decide for themselves how to meet needs that are often not met by the current system, such as service dogs or alternative therapies. It’s time to treat people with disabilities with respect instead of paternalism and to address the inadequacies of the current system. The proposed federal Disability Benefit is an opportunity to do better. Will it measure up to a Basic Income? Let’s hope so.
Evelyn L. Forget is author of Basic Income for Canadians: From the COVID-19 Emergency to Financial Security for All.
Sheila Regehr is Chair of the Basic Income Canada Network.