July 2, 2014. 12:20 pm
On June 16, Premier Christy Clark announced B.C.’s 10-year plan, Accessibility 2014: Making B.C. the Most Progressive Province in Canada for People with Disabilities by 2024. The plan is the result of the provincial government’s Disability White Paper Consultation earlier this year.
While many participants had a healthy amount of skepticism before, during and after the consultation process, at first glance, the plan has some positive aspects. It is based around 12 key “building blocks” that, at least judging by their headings, appear to target the right issues we need to address in order to support people with disabilities to enable them to participate in their communities. These include income supports, housing, financial security and the accessibility of services. The plan also commits to increase the amount of accessible public housing (likely by retrofitting existing housing, not by building new public housing), to improve accessibility requirements in the building code and to provide some funding for assistive technologies.
That being said, a closer look reveals some glaring omissions from the plan:
■ Housing affordability is not mentioned, despite the fact that the Disability White Paper Consultation Report highlighted it as a key concern from those that provided feedback in the government’s own consultation process.
■ There are no goals targeted to people with mental-health disabilities. In fact, there is no mention of mental illness in the plan despite the significant feedback the government received about the specific needs of this group, particularly with respect to housing security, difficulty navigating available services and the inadequacy of available services.
Aside from these stark omissions, there are serious problems with the issues that are covered in the plan. For example, under income supports, the province commits to “consider disability assistance rate increases as the fiscal situation allows” at some point before 2024. Given the inadequacy of current disability assistance rates — $906 per month for a single person, an amount that hasn’t increased since 2007 — raising the rates is a priority.
We cannot wait until “the fiscal situation allows.” We certainly can’t wait until 2024!
It’s also disappointing that B.C. chooses to measure much of its success in ways that simply will not reflect meaningful change:
■ The plan intends to measure progress on income supports by comparing B.C.’s disability assistance rates to those in other provinces. This totally fails to reflect the actual costs of living or any other rationalized method of setting the rates so that people with disabilities can live with dignity.
■ The plan intends to measure financial security by the per-capita uptake of the Registered Disability Savings Plan, a federal savings plan which, in practice, is only available for a subset of people with certain kinds of disabilities and at certain ages. Generally, the plan is of little benefit for people with mental illness or people who experience the onset of disability later in their lives.
After several months of extensive community consultation, the plan is disappointing, particularly if these are the government’s commitments for the next decade.
In order for B.C. to become the most progressive province in Canada for people with disabilities, we need to aim much higher and come up with a comprehensive plan to address the key barriers and poverty that people with all kinds of disabilities face in their daily lives. We also need to track the success of the plan with meaningful and effective measures. We can do better.
Kendra Milne is a research associate with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and a social justice lawyer. Her work focuses on legal issues that impact the poor and people with disabilities.