A Thirty Year Retrospective on the Income Adequacy of Canadian Provincial Social Assistance Payments to Non-Institutionalized Disabled Adults

By Csiernik, Rick; Csiernik, Benjamin et al. | Canadian Review of Social Policy, January 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

A Thirty Year Retrospective on the Income Adequacy of Canadian Provincial Social Assistance Payments to Non-Institutionalized Disabled Adults


Csiernik, Rick, Csiernik, Benjamin, Brideau, Melissa, Canadian Review of Social Policy


Income security is an important contemporary policy issue especially given the rapidly shifting economy and the aging of the North American workforce (Berg, 2016; Lamarche, Hanley, Noel, & Christensen, 2016; Quinn, & Cahill, 2016). However, what of the income security of those who have been unable to work through their adult years? Have the policies of the past three decades done anything to provide adequate incomes for non-institutionalized disabled Canadians who have not been part of the active workforce?

In 1981 during the International Year of the Disabled world attention was focused, perhaps for the first time, upon individuals with ability issues. Since then, much has changed in Canada, and globally, including ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by the United Nations in 2006. Article 24 of the Convention focused specifically on education, and in Canada, we have witnessed greater integration of children with ability issues into the school system (British Colombia, 2016; Manitoba, 2015; Nova Scotia Education, 2008) with increased grants and accommodation for post-secondary students (Government of Canada, 2013). Technological changes for disabled individuals since 1981 have included the cochlear implant that stimulates the auditory nerve providing sensory input for hearing impaired individuals, GPS based personal navigation systems for visually impaired individuals, and running blades that allow wearers to not just walk but move at up to world class sprinter speed. As important, have been social changes such as:

* sporting events highlighting abilities, such as the Paralympics and the Invictus Games;

* characters on television shows (Breaking Bad, Family Guy, Glee) and movies (Children of a Lesser God, Rain Man, Silver Linings Playbook, The Sessions) portraying individuals with issues of ability; though those playing these roles are typically not themselves living with a disability;

* the appointment of David Onley as Lieutenant Governor of Ontario; and,

* ceremonies such as the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health's Courage to Come Award.

However, there is one domain that remains a prominent issue for individuals living with disabilities who are unable to work full-time and that is a cornerstone for successful participation in society: income adequacy.

Csiernik (1988) created four family scenarios involving non-institutionalized disabled adults who relied on social assistance in each Canadian province to examine the actual level of income adequacy provided across the country in 1984. The four scenarios were: a single person, a married couple who were both disabled, a single parent disabled with two children (aged 8 and 13), and a married couple with two children (aged 8 and 13) with one adult totally disabled and the other taking on care taking responsibilities. This created forty distinct family categories. The Statistics Canada census metropolitan area (CMA) low-income cut-off (LICO) for communities with a population of more than 500,000 was used in the 1984 analysis to provide a relative comparison between the provinces. The LICOs are after tax income thresholds below which a family will likely devote a larger share of its income on the necessities of food, shelter and clothing than the average family. The approach uses an income threshold at which families are expected to spend twenty percentage points more than the average family on food, shelter and clothing (Statistics Canada, 2015).

In 1984 the province of Alberta offered the greatest financial assistance to its disabled residents unable to work, whereas Nova Scotia provided the lowest amounts. However, in only three of the forty (7.5%) scenarios did income levels exceed LICO thresholds. The results clearly indicated that the vast majority of non-institutionalized disabled adults receiving social assistance in Canada lived in poverty and, thus, so did any children they had that lived with them. …

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