High inflation is hitting people on fixed disability benefits hard

High inflation

People with disabilities more likely to live in poverty and have higher rates of unemployment

Even before inflation started rising, Murray and Linda Mann said it was hard for their son Kevin to make ends meet.

Kevin, 58, has a range of health problems, including systemic lupus, which has affected his kidneys. He spends a lot of time in and out of hospital, sometimes for months at a time. As a result, he is unable to work and relies on Canada Pension Plan disability benefits from the federal government, and a small pension from his former job to survive on less than $17,000 a year.

Every month is a financial stretch, and inflation is making it harder.

“Money is real tight for Kevin and it has been for 25 years,” said his father Murray in a recent interview from their home in Belleville, Ont.

“And Kevin is not the only one,” added Linda. “There are so many people below the poverty line and with disabilities.”

Assistance not keeping up with inflation

Murray said Kevin’s pension from his former job is not indexed to inflation, so it doesn’t rise as costs escalate. While the federal benefits are indexed, they lag behind actual inflation, so he said the increases haven’t caught up to the 6.7 per cent inflation rate that Statistics Canada reported for March.

The Manns would like to see more support for people with disabilities, like an income supplement that would put them above the poverty line and help offset rising costs for food, shelter and other goods.

Guillaume Parent, a financial planner, said the poverty line is higher for people with disabilities because they face extra costs like adapted housing and transport.

Guillaume Parent, director of the wealth management firm Finandicap, specializes in financial services for people with disabilities. For his clients, there are often extra costs to shoulder, like adapted housing and transit, and personal support workers.

Those expenses push the poverty line higher for people with disabilities and governments need to recognize that and adjust to it, said Parent, who has cerebral palsy.

Quebec’s disability benefits are indexed to inflation, but Parent said those increases come long after prices have already gone up.

“People are suffering a lot,” he said, adding he has clients who are no longer able to cover their basic costs.

Waiting on legislation to help

In Ontario, people with disabilities can apply for the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), which provides income support for qualifying adults with disabilities.

Pascal Kakule, an organiser with the Ottawa chapter of the advocacy group Acorn, uses a wheelchair and relies on ODSP to make ends meet.

The amount he gets, he said, falls short of what he needs, particularly in the face of today’s fast-rising prices. What’s more, his wife works part-time, which means he is eligible for less money from the province, and the rates have been frozen since 2018.

“That kind of system they are working with, it’s very very difficult for people to survive,” Kakule said.

Kakule and other advocates are calling on Ontario to raise its ODSP rates and reduce clawbacks affecting him and others.

A spokesperson for Ontario’s Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Merrilee Fullerton said in a statement the provincial government raised social assistance rates by 1.5 per cent when it took office in 2018, and that it’s waiting for the federal government to deliver on a promise to create a Canada Disability Benefit, to help boost support.

That legislation, aimed at increasing the monthly incomes of Canadians with disabilities, was introduced by the federal government in 2021, but the bill died when the federal election was called and the government has yet to re-introduce it.

Carla Qualtrough, the federal minister of employment, workforce development and disability inclusion, said in a statement she plans to revive the bill, but did not give a timeline.

Existing financial help available to people with disabilities varies from province to province and they can be hard to navigate, said financial planner David Truong, chief adviser of private banking with the National Bank in Montreal.

“Not everyone is aware of those programs, that they’re out there a lot and not all of them are easy to understand,” he said.

“Seek out for advice and try to get the most out of the government programs that are available for you.”