Disability and Poverty in Canada: A Persistent Challenge

October 27, 2016 by dccinc

According to a Statistics Canada report in 2012, there are 3.8 million people with a disability in Canada, or 13.7% of the national population. “The data also shows that chronic poverty is an everyday reality for people on disabilities and highlights the need for more attention to poverty reduction strategies such as increases to minimum wage, income security through a more robust Ontario Disability Support Program that allows people with disabilities to supplement their earnings without the risk of losing benefits if they earn more.”

Thousands of Canadian’s with disabilities still live in poverty

Canadians live in an age where people with disabilities have finally stepped out of the shadows and become far more visible. The country has outstanding role models such as CEO and motivational speaker Rick Hansen, attorney David Lepofsky who helped to draft the AODA, Sam Sullivan the former mayor of Vancouver, and Kent Hehr named Minister of Veterans Affairs in the federal Cabinet, headed by Justin Trudeau, on November 4, 2015. These achievements signal hope for the future, but for hundreds of thousands of Canadians with disabilities, they still live in poverty and life is a daily struggle.

In order to understand this struggle, some key concepts are worth an explanation:

Absolute Poverty

  • Lacking the minimum requirements to survive such as food, water, shelter etc.

Cycle of Deprivation

  • Explanation of how one aspect of poverty (poor housing) can lead to further poverty (poor health) building up to a cycle of which you cannot escape.

Environmental Poverty

  • Living in an area of deprivation in terms of bad housing, bad education etc.


  • The process where people are pushed to the margins or edges of society by poverty, lack of education, racism and disability

Material Deprivation

  • Lacking money to buy things

Subjective Poverty

  • Relates to how people perceive their position in relation to others in society in terms of their subjective attitudes with regards to poverty

Poverty is not a disability issue, but rather a social one.  In order to slay poverty in this generation, there is a need for social solutions, which encompass both social advocacy and government policies. Social advocacy has proven to be highly successful in transforming the lives of people with disabilities. The disability rights movement has, by all indications, been highly successful in that they are no longer shoved into institutions and asylums, and have more opportunities than ever to be independent, successful, and live a full life on their own terms.

To succeed as a social movement, the disability rights movement had to identify the ideas which exerted unobtrusive control over the premises and define the issues which concerned them. It needed to do so because these controlling ideas constituted a structure of policy and practice, i.e., a plausibility structure which renders it plausible for ordinary, well-intentioned people to accept and put into practice ideas which the movement regards as oppressive.

If one accepts the current theoretical foundations of the discourse on disability, then one accepts the view of Social Constructionism, as put forth by authors such as Susan Wendell and Michael Oliver. In 1990, Oliver famously wrote the following:

“The social constructionist view perceives the problem of disability situated within the minds of non-disabled people individually as prejudice, and collectively as the manifestation of hostile social attitudes and practices based upon negative assumptions of impairment. The social creationist view perceives the problem of disability as the outcome of the institutionalised practices of contemporary society (Oliver, 1990).”

Thus to alleviate the connection between disability and poverty there is a need to recognize the issue must be addressed on the social level. The eradication of poverty requires a systemic response by all sectors of society – business, education, social services and government. Without this integrated, holistic approach, there will constantly be band-aids being stuck to one area of the problem or another. The Canadian Council on Disabilities put forth the following as required initiatives to begin addressing the problem:

  • New initiatives to address poverty, including improving the Registered Disability Savings Plan and Canada Pension Plan Disability Benefit.  – Issues to be addressed in this area include removing barriers for those with intellectual disability wishing to open RSDP Plans, expanding the Disability Tax Credit Definition and making the CPPD benefit non-taxable.
  • New initiatives to improve employment access, including specific targets for the employment of persons with disabilities in Labour Market Agreements with the provinces and expanding EI Sick Benefit.
  • New initiatives to improve access, including the regulation of new information technologies to ensure access, and the creation of a Centre of Excellence that would provide best practice information to employers, businesses, etc. on innovative universal design options.

Here are some recent facts about disability and poverty in Canada:

  • According to theDaily Bread Food Bank’s 2014 Who’s Hungry report, the number of disabled people using food banks in Ontario has doubled since 2005.
  • Canadians with disabilities have a 4.7 % higher poverty rate than the rest of the population.

Disability and poverty isn’t about hand-outs, bigger pensions, or even more job-creation programs. The issue speaks to the heart of full inclusion and true equality for all people in Canada. As one of the world’s most highly developed and technologically-sophisticated countries, Canada still has a long way to go in order to realize a fully inclusive society. Our new PM has a rare opportunity here, to start off his time in office with empowering legislation such as a Canadians with Disabilities Act which should have as one of its priorities to eradicate the gaps for people with disabilities in Canada. The only way to end the connection between poverty and disability is to accept that it’s a systemic problem which requires a systemic solution. People with disabilities deserve opportunities for full employment, accessible housing, educational opportunities and fully accessible transit. But, most of all there is a need to recognize one of the greatest barriers to equality and that is the persistence of poverty in the lives of people with disabilities.

At Disability Credit Canada, we have helped many disabled Canadian’s claim disability tax credit. Give us a call today to get a free assessment.

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