Earning money is very important to self advocates who, if not living at home with family, often live in poverty.

Like everybody else, they need money to pay rent, electricity, groceries, medical needs and other bills so they can live more independently and so they can save money for traveling and education.

Whether self advocates are receiving disability assistance or working for minimum wage, or a combination of both incomes, it is not enough to allow them to pay their rent, buy food, medicine, clothing, have recreational opportunities, travel, of enjoy hobbies.

For those self-advocates who are working in B.C., the minimum wage, often paid in retail, fast food, service and clerical jobs went up from $8.00 an hour to $10.25 an hour in May 2012, increasing the annual income by $4000, up to $22,880 a year. If you had no paid work experience before Nov 15, 2001 your employer could legally pay you $6.00 an hour until you had worked for a total of 500 hours with one or more employers. When the minimum wage was raised, the $6.00 an hour training wage was eliminated.

This sounds like good news but really, the minimum wage is not enough to help people take care of their basic needs. And to make things worse, there are some provinces in Canada who still permit employers to pay disabled workers less than the minimum wage, and sometimes no wage at all.

At present, Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan allow the payment of wages below the general minimum wage rate to workers with disabilities under a system of individual employer permits. Though these provisions are still on the books, they are little used. But recent reports have shown that Goodwill Industries in the United States paid disabled workers as little as 22 cents an hour under a federal law in that country that — like Alberta — allowed some non-profits to pay disabled workers less than the minimum wage.

A company in Ontario was ordered to pay an employee over $150,000 in back pay when it was discovered disabled workers were paid between $1 and $1.25 an hour, while the able-bodied who worked beside them, earned minimum wage. At one time, Ontario law allowed employers, with consent of the “handicapped,” as the disabled were then called, to pay disabled people less than minimum wage, often in what were known as sheltered workshops. However, in 1986, the legislation was amended to conform with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the practice was outlawed.

Improving the representation of people with disabilities in the labour market has been one of the most difficult projects undertaken by the advocacy groups of people with disabilities. More money means meeting new people, having good self esteem, being healthier, live with a purpose  keep busy and active,  learn and keep learning, and  have choices.

10578887986_4d32b0f4b4_mSheenagh Morrison, a self-advocate, struggles with receiving the minimum wage combined with low work hours.

“When I started with the company I work for 7 years ago I was at 8.25 an hour and then I got a raise after so many hours experience,” she said. ” I was put up to 9.50 an hour.  When the government put up minimum wage to 10.25 an hour I didn’t qualify for it for whatever reason. After 5 years of asking for a raise I’m finally up to 11.00 an hour. But 11.00 an hour still isn’t enough especially when you only work 12 hours a week.”

British Columbia has one of the highest overall poverty rates in the country. Wages are low and the cost of living is high. Statistics Canada estimated that if you live in the following cities, you need to be making much more than minimum wage just to barely manage.

In Vancouver, workers need to work full time hours and  earn at least $19.62 an hour. In Victoria it is $18.73 an hour. If you live in Kamloops your wage needs to be $17.95 an hour, Terrace, $17.65 an hour, Qualicum, $17.20 an hour, Okanagan $17.17 an hour, Prince George $16.90 an hour, Fraser Valley $16.37 an hour, Williams Lake $15.77 an hour and Cranbrook $14.16 an hour.

Currently Nunavut has the highest minimum wage in Canada at $11.00 an hour and Alberta has the lowest minimum wage in Canada at $9.95 an hour.

Sadly, the hard work by self-advocates who are employed, and the minimum wage that is often all that is offered for the work being done does not add up to the right answers for people who are just trying to live independently.