Updated: Jul 17
Michelle Hewitt and Disability Without Poverty are committed to ending disability poverty, and are currently focusing on the Canada Disability Benefit
By Spencer van Vloten
June 28th, 2021
The new Canada-wide movement, Disability Without Poverty, is focused on ending disability poverty across the country, with one of their first steps being to help shape the Canada Disability Benefit.
We talked with one of Disability Without Poverty's leaders, Michelle Hewitt, about the group's work and guiding principles.
Spencer: Tell us about Disability Without Poverty
Michelle: We are a national movement, comprised of disability advocates from across Canada.
Our movement is about getting disabled persons to raise their voices and take the lead in ending disability poverty in our country.
We want to work with everyone who is committed to ending poverty for Canadians with disabilities. Whether you are an individual, family member, friend, Facebook group member, coalition, foundation, business/corporation, professional, service provider, nonprofit, religious group, ally or accomplice!
Spencer: Tell us about what Disability Without Poverty is focused on now.
Michelle: We are focused on the Canada Disability Benefit, as the first step to significantly reduce disability poverty across Canada. There are a few different aspects to this:
We need to mobilize the voices and powers of persons with disabilities, so that we and not the government shape the legislation, and so it's supported by the political parties and provinces.
Minister of Disability Inclusion, Carla Qualtrough, is one of the key policy makers involved with the Canada Disability Benefit
We are working with economists and policy experts to learn more and to work together to design key policy features.
And we are also working to secure public support to end disability poverty, because without this support ending disability poverty will be impossible.
Spencer: What do you see as the biggest contributors towards the poverty that disabled persons face in BC and Canada?
Michelle: I’m a PhD student, and my focus is on working aged disabled people with chronic illnesses that have no option other than to live in long-term care.
For me, it comes down to values. In my research, I want to examine the values that led us to this place where younger physically disabled people receive care that doesn’t meet their needs.
Putting my Disability Without Poverty hat back on, I think it comes back to society’s values towards disabled people. If you have a disability that is severe enough that employment is not an option, currently, you have no option than to live in poverty, unless your family is independently wealthy.
If you have a disability that is severe enough that employment is not an option...you have no option than to live in poverty
If you have the capacity to work, and you have mild to moderate disability, you are probably going to be unemployed or underemployed. For me, the values that unpin this are fundamentally wrong.
Spencer: Are there specific reforms or measures that the group is calling for?
Michelle: Here are basic principles we are going forward with right now:
Include people with disabilities in the design of the Canada Disability Benefit.
Create a disability income support system based on equity and autonomy.
Acknowledge the extra costs associated with disability.
Raise the income of Canadians with disabilities above the poverty line.
Make sure everyone currently receiving disability benefits (at the federal, provincial and territorial level and from private insurers) is automatically eligible for the Canada Disability Benefit.
Create a separate application for those not currently receiving any disability benefit.
Make eligibility simpler and consistent across the country.
Include a generous earnings exemption.
Index the Canada Disability Benefit to the disability cost of living.
No clawback. Maintaining existing health benefits, transportation allowances, adaptive equipment, employment supports and other in-kind benefits available from provincial and territorial governments.
Spencer: What needs to happen to put enough pressure on the government for change to happen? What can people do to help?
Michelle: We have to create a tidal wave of pressure that is too big to ignore.
As you can see in the Angus Reid survey, 89% of Canadians agree with the CDB and 88% say that lifting disabled people out of poverty is the right thing to do.
Sure, each disabled organization is going to bring different nuances together in our messages, but there is more that unites us than “divides” us - divide being a bit too strong for what I mean.
There is more that unites us than divides us
So, as we move forward to what looks inevitably like a federal election in the fall, we must get the wider Canadian public behind us in support of this - we need this tidal wave to include more than disabled people and their allies.
So, what can we do? Educate all our followers as to what the facts are on disabled people living in poverty. Tell the stories. Bring disabled people’s lives out of the shadows.
We keep hearing that the country is going to “build back better” after the pandemic - well, that can only happen if we build back better for everyone.
Spencer van Vloten is the editor of BC Disability. To get in touch, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org!