On June 16th, I was in Vancouver at the BC Accessibility Summit where Premier Christy Clark along with the Minister of Social Development and Social Innovation, Don McRae, announced BC’s 10 year plan for people with disabilities. The plan, called Accessibility 2024: Making BC the Most Progressive Province in Canada for People with Disabilities by 2024, is a response to the Disability White Paper Consultation which took place from December 2013 to March 2014. The consultation was an opportunity for people across our province living with a disability, their friends and families, community members, advocates and employers to share their views about what needs to be done by government, businesses and communities to increase accessibility and decrease barriers for people with disabilities. Accessibility 2024 focuses on 12 building blocks, such as inclusive government, accessible service delivery, accessible housing, income support, and employment. At TAPS we are pleased that the government has identified these areas as priorities.
We do, however, have a number of concerns. The government states in Accessibility 2024 that they would consider increasing the rates of disability assistance as “the fiscal situation allows.” A designated recipient of Persons with Disabilities receives $906 per month, a number that hasn’t changed since 2007. To think that this rate may not change by 2024 is especially alarming given the expenses a person with a disability incurs while also trying to make ends meet in a province that has a high cost of living.
The government also states in the plan that it will “[c]onsult on family maintenance payments for families receiving disability and income assistance.” There is no mention of government having any plans to cease the child support clawbacks for families on social assistance. Currently, each family on income or disability assistance has the amount they receive in child support taken off of their social assistance cheque.
Accessibility 2024 does not have any goals directed specifically at helping people living with mental health disabilities, who make up a significant portion of those with Person With a Disability status. At TAPS we see clients living with severe mental health conditions struggle to navigate complex income and disability assistance legislation and policies. We believe that greater efforts need to be directed towards making social assistance more user-friendly for this population.
Another key omission in Accessibility 2024 is housing affordability. Although accessible housing was addressed in Accessibility 2024, there is no mention of attempting to meet the glaring need for more affordable housing in communities throughout our province. At TAPS we see clients who are unable to purchase nutritious food or pay for hydro because they have to pay their rent. We also work with clients who are served eviction notices because they have had to pay for urgently needed medications and were subsequently left without money for rent. Clients can wait years for a BC Housing subsidized housing unit to become available. Affordable housing needs to be a priority now.
Although Accessibility 2024 touches on some key areas, British Columbians deserve a plan that addresses the needs of all people with disabilities. If you would like to view Accessibility 2024 in various accessible formats you can do so at: http://engage.gov.bc.ca/disabilitywhitepaper/accessibility-2024/. The White Paper Consultation Report can also be viewed in various accessible formats at: http://engage.gov.bc.ca/disabilitywhitepaper/disability-consultation-report/. We also have paper copies of each of these documents available for people to read at the TAPS office.