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Canada Disability Benefit: Dignity For Disabled Canadians?

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Will the Canada Disability Benefit help lift disabled Canadians from poverty?

BC Disability

May 6th, 2024

The Canada Disability Benefit represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to tackle the deep and disproportionately high rates of poverty among persons with disabilities.

The Canada Disability Benefit Act will come into force by June 22, 2024, but much of its design and delivery has yet to be decided.

Dignity by Design: The Canada Disability Benefit, a report by the CSA Group Public Policy Centre, sets out the features of an ideal Canada Disability Benefit.

We talked with the report's author, Sherri Torjman.

Tell us about the report

Sherri: It explores three key areas of the Canada Disability Benefit (CDB) that are central to the design of any income security program: eligibility, adequacy and administrative procedures.

Based on these key areas, the report sets out 10 recommendations that would advance the implementation of this ideal design for the CDB.

Sum up your reaction to what the government has budgeted and in place for the Canada Disability Benefit so far.

Sherri: The level of the benefit and the amount that was allocated for the entire package over six years do not go far enough to support Canadians living with disabilities.

The federal Budget announced a maximum benefit of $200.00 a month or $2,400.00 a year. This is far from the promise made in the 2020 Throne Speech, which made reference to a new CDB that would be modelled on the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS), which is paid to eligible Canadians over age 65. The GIS has made a real impact on reducing poverty among elderly Canadians.

The federal Budget announced a maximum benefit of $200.00 a month or $2,400.00 a year. This is far from the promise made in the 2020 Throne Speech.

While the CDB announcement had been a beacon of hope for the disability community, the low level of the benefit will provide only marginal assistance.

I was also surprised that the federal government announced that the disability tax credit (DTC) would be the primary eligibility criterion. It used the same screen for the COVID disability benefit. The government was criticized at the time for the narrow coverage of this benefit and subsequently had to broaden the eligibility criteria.

There are also major concerns with the DTC. It is not targeted toward low-income Canadians. If poverty reduction is a key objective of the Canada Disability Benefit, then substantial work will have to be undertaken to ensure that the CDB is directed toward these individuals. Moreover, the process for qualifying for the DTC can be long and complex. It will also be essential to improve and streamline this process.

In your view, what is the key to improving the financial situation of disabled Canadians in poverty?

Sherri: Improving the financial situation of disabled Canadians will require a series of coordinated measures by all orders of government. 

First, it will be essential to build on the base benefit that was announced. A basic minimum income should be in the order of $25,000.00 a year.

The Dignity by Design report provides examples of several programs that work with this amount (some programs are a bit higher, and some are a bit lower). Note that this is not the amount that government would have to pay to everybody. Rather, it is the maximum amount to which their incomes from all other sources would be topped up.

The federal government has chosen instead to use a ‘cost reduction’ approach rather than a ‘minimum income’ approach. The differences between these two approaches are described in the report. A reasonable cost reduction amount would be in the order of $7,200.00 a year.

A reasonable cost reduction amount would be in the order of $7,200.00 a year

Another action is to fix and improve the way in which disability supports are made available and delivered in Canada. There are serious problems in their availability and affordability. 

From where would the funds come to boost supports substantially beyond their current levels?

Sherri: I have not done a complete analysis of the current and future spending, and all the associated fiscal options. But in my view, there is one immediate option that would help pay for at least part of the additional cost.

In 2024, an estimated $1.7 billion will be spent on the DTC and this amount will grow every year. One possibility is to allow working-age Canadians who qualify the CDB to claim that benefit or the DTC, but not both. Otherwise, they would effectively be claiming double benefits for the same purpose. 

What do you think will be the biggest challenges moving ahead for the Canada Disability Benefit?

Sherri: One of the major challenges moving ahead is the prolonged wait time people with disabilities will face before receiving money in their pockets. It will take about five years before that happens – that is a very long time to wait for a benefit of less than $7.00 a day. We need to do better.

One of the major challenges moving ahead is the prolonged wait time people with disabilities will face before receiving money in their pockets.

The other challenge will be to ensure that low-income Canadians with disabilities are aware of the fact that they may be eligible for the DTC. They may not receive any reduction in their income taxes because they have little or no taxable income. But they still may qualify for the DTC Certificate, which would entitle them to apply for the CDB.

Are you optimistic?

Sherri: While the benefit announced in the Budget does not go far enough to help people living with disabilities, I am optimistic in terms of future possibilities. All income security programs take years to reach certain standards of adequacy and to evolve with appropriate eligibility criteria and administrative procedures.

I think that we should understand the CDB, as presented in the 2024 Budget, as a foundation only upon which we must continue to build on an ongoing basis. 

Anything else to add?

Sherri: Thank you for your work and for highlighting the Dignity by Design report.  

It is also important to note the vital role of the CSA Group Public Policy Centre, which had asked me to work on this policy issue. Canada needs this kind of independent policy group that is able to contribute data-driven and research-based solutions to complex public policy issues. 

The Centre is also in a unique position to develop policy options for all orders of government around actions that they can take both alone and together. This is crucial for the disability agenda which, as you know, involves the federal, provincial/territorial and municipal orders of government. The CSA Public Policy Centre will continue to play a leading role in the essential work that lies ahead.

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Spencer van Vloten is the editor of BC Disability. To get in touch, send an email to!


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