Friday, 30 December 2016

Disability Pensions in BC - Lest We Forget

More than 160 organizations write to Premier Christy Clark opposing changes to bus passes for people with disabilities

Image from Article in Georgia Strait

In the overwhelming climate of fear that I have moved into since the reality of the low-income housing market has hit me full in the face, one thing I have left unsaid is what it means to actually be on a provincial disability pension in BC. Below my essay on that topic is an article on the latest "improvement" to the BC disability pension called "BC Liberals’disability double-dealing is disappointing". Those who know whereof I speak may wish to skip my offering and go straight to Kirk LaPointe's.

When I first won my tribunal and was awarded BC GAIN for Handicapped, as it was then called, I was walking on air. (Of course they said no when I first applied and I had to find an advocate to fight for me--something not so easy these days as advocates are absolutely swamped with requests.) I felt a freedom I had never felt before. The visions of ending up on the streets if my rent climbed any higher now receded as with the tide. I had enough. Enough for rent, enough for food, enough for what I needed, if not enough to go out to restaurants and live the high life. But enough, and I was deliriously happy.

Those fears of ending up on the streets have slowly, slowly returned. And now with my home under direct threat, they are as roaring monsters from the deep, and I am very afraid.


A number of years ago myself and a throng of others living on BC disability benefits were forced to apply for the federal equivalent. Not invited, but forced, with unknown men (and women?)--not doctors, or counsellors, or someone you might, might, be inclined to trust, but some sort of case workers, I suppose, coming into our homes, asking highly personal questions, and listening as we with anxiety and distress described all the worst and most private elements of our lives that led to our being disabled, and of course, the dirty details of the disabilities themselves. The moment we got CPP the province tried to force us to to give them the backpay we received. We didn't have to, legally, they were careful to say, but we really did owe it to them, since they had so kindly cared for us all that time.

Luckily, despite my tendency to feel guilt and do what I am compelled to do by people who seem stronger or scarier than me, I had an interviewer who shook his head in silent disagreement with the policy he was forced to follow, and I took courage and kept my tiny refund for myself.

From that moment on, whenever the federal government gave an increase to my pension, the province happily trimmed it away, so that to my eyes there was never any more money, even though rent, food, and all the necessities were flying higher and higher in price. I am told we had a slight actual increase nine years ago but honestly, it was not felt by me.

Now, these are all just numbers, and hard to imagine into a way of life. Sure, $900, that's not much, but it's not bad, is it? Then think, imagine yourself living on this amount: How much do I pay in rent? How much is the least I can imagine paying in rent without moving into a complete dive? For that matter, how much are complete dives going for these days? Could I afford one on $900 a month?  (Hint: "Even the “last resort” type of rental units — the SROs found in the Downtown Eastside known for their poor conditions and cramped spaces — are now costing an average of $482 to rent. And prices continue to rise." Click the link for the full story.)

And then there's food, transportation, the many things you seem increasingly to need at the drugstore as you age or get sick that are not covered by medical or dental insurance. And could I ever buy a birthday present, let alone Christmas presents, or go out with friends without someone else having to pay my way--could I ever visit Mum in Nova Scotia, or take a course, or... Just think. $900 a month, round about. And you will see why we grocery shop once a month and then try to cupboard cruise the rest of the weeks, why we eat too much bread and not enough eggs or fish, why our community garden plot is so incredibly important to us, if we are lucky enough to have one (which I am, and which most aren't), and why we get so completely freaked out when we think of rent increases, renevictions, and losing our homes without finding another.

I am not the only person whose guts are being eaten alive by this.


If you are unfamiliar with renevictions, pleasure yourself with this little data from the government website:
Use the unit for another purposeThe buyer can serve the tenant a Two Month Notice to End Tenancy after the title of the property has been transferred and all required permits and approvals are in place when the buyer intends to:
  • Demolish the rental unit or do major repairs or renovations that require the building or rental unit be empty
  • Convert the rental unit to a strata property unit, a non-profit co-operative or society, or a not-for-profit housing co-operative under the Cooperative Association Act
  • Convert the rental unit to non-residential use, such as a shop
  • Convert the rental unit into a caretaker’s unit

Into this painful mix the BC Liberals have quietly slipped in a new increase to benefit those who are suffering most in the current high stakes housing markets--why, the landlords, of course. Lookie here:

The maximum allowable rent increase for residential tenancies is 2.9% in 2016 and 3.7% in 2017. There are additional rent increase allowances for manufactured home park tenancies.

My god. As if we are not suffering enough. And it is, of course, yet worse for those on the basic rate, and for many the homeless and working poor. It is like we are sliding off a cliff, or being trapped in third class on the Titanic. But before I panic any further, here's a--

Fun Game! You, too, can find out how much your rent may increase the next time your landlord gets an itch up her nose. Go to the cheery Rent Increase Calculator to find out!

Fun Sidetreat! Christy Clark earlier said we should raise the rates for people on disability "if we could afford it", linking that largesse to the natural gas development she has been pushing to all who will hear. Read that story here.


And suddenly, in this election year, the BC Liberals have decided to pretend to be magnanimous to disabled people at last, in a stunning piece of sleight of hand that may have escaped your notice. I leave it to Kirk LaPointe of Business Vancouver to spell it out for you.

Now, when you read Kirk's story below, bear in mind that these are the words the BC Liberals used in announcing the "increase" (and a few other goodies like penalizing us less for having money in the bank):

VICTORIA - B.C.'s most vulnerable families are getting a helping hand thanks to income and disability assistance changes that take effect today. The changes, announced in June as part of the Families First Agenda, are designed to help vulnerable individuals and families attain better financial outcomes, assist people with disabilities to lead more independent lives, and help people capable of work avoid the cycle of income-assistance dependence.


By Kirk LaPointe | June 3, 2016, 9 a.m.

In politics, there is a time to admit a mistake before it is too costly. Then there is a time when it is just too late.

Let’s assume in this case we haven’t crossed the line – that we can make one last plea for decency and sanity before the point of no return.

In last February’s provincial budget, someone came up with a bright idea and someone came up with a few horrible ideas for people with disabilities.

The bright idea wasn’t even really that bright. It was overdue and not terribly generous; a $77 monthly increase starting this fall in their $906.42 benefits, the first increase in nine years.

Just for a moment, wherever you are reading this right now, think of that.

Let it settle in.

Nine years.

Almost all of those years involve economic growth in our province under Liberal stewardship, and yet no one at the cabinet table was successful in pushing the finance minister or the premier to increase the meagre support for those who face daily challenges beyond what most of us can comprehend.

Still, to be somewhat fair for a moment, better late than never.

Still, let’s end that fair moment right here, because the bright ideas – if you can call them that – ceased there.

There are 20,000 people who receive a $66 transportation subsidy. They’ll lose that. Their net gain is $11 monthly.

There are 35,000 who get a transit pass for $45 annually. They will now start paying $52 monthly for that pass.

Their net gain is seemingly $25 a month.

But wait. There’s also a lovely administration fee of $45 annually, taking their increase down to $21.25.

All told, the net transportation saving for the provincial treasury of these one-hand-giveth, one-hand-taketh-away activities: a whopping $3 million. For that princely sum, the Liberals risk the further alienation of those with disabilities and their families, for starters. As an able-bodied voter/supporter, I’m astonished and disappointed, too.

There is no small irony that this budgetary lunacy comes when we are at last developing some economic and social sophistication about the untapped potential workforce of people with disabilities.

Organizations like the Vancouver-based Open Door Group have helped firms identify, recruit and retain such talent.

There is no small hypocrisy that the province boasted that this budget – in the context of the best-performing economy in the country – held out more to those most vulnerable. Bringing the rate up to, say, Alberta’s would have cost the province about $30 million, a fraction of the $100 million prosperity fund the government created on budget day.

And there is even no small inconsistency, given that progress in recent years on this front has permitted easier access to support and better terms of eligibility. It’s as if the right hand doesn’t realize what the left hand has been doing.

In mid-May, Disability Alliance BC asked Premier Christy Clark to leave the transportation programs in place as the province raises the disability assistance rates. While the alliance has unsuccessfully fought for a more formidable rate – say, $1,200 a month, in line with what other provinces provide – it didn’t expect it would also have to double down and fight to keep the transport subsidies.

So far from Victoria, a response of radio silence.

By the way, most insulting in this: the absurd assertion that these measures provide choice, that now someone with a disability can choose to keep a few dollars or take the bus pass. I somehow doubt the public relations geniuses who sat in a room and conjured that talking point earn $906.42 a month.

Here we are in early June, and OK, let’s agree a mistake can be remedied by the October due date and perhaps forgotten by election time next May.

Wait too long, though, and it smacks of cynical pre-election posturing.

Has it come to that? Is this really the best we can do? •

Kirk LaPointe is Business in Vancouver’s vice-president of audience and business development.

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