Valentine’s Day is approaching – a time for many of us to celebrate romance, friendship, and the power of loving relationships to help carry us through life’s challenges.
But for Canadians with disabilities, it is a painful reminder of the systemic discrimination they face.
That is because across the country provincial policies stop most people from receiving disability assistance merely if they have a spouse.
In other words, love has been legislated to be incompatible with financial survival.
Here in B.C., all that is required for someone to be cut off or ruled ineligible for much-needed disability support is to have a spouse that makes more than $1377.56 a month, the standard amount of disability assistance for a person with a disability in a 2-person family unit.
That’s only $16,530.76 a year, about the equivalent of the province’s $15.20 an hour minimum wage, part-time, and the policy is strikingly similar whichever province you look at.
What does this mean?
It means to receive badly needed financial assistance—4 in 10 disabled Canadians live in poverty—Canadians with disabilities who cannot work or can only work part-time must hide their relationships or not have them in the first place.
It means if they stay in those relationships, they are stripped of financial independence, expected to be provided for like a child by a spouse who may earn as little as part-time minimum wage.
It means without a source of income, they are pressured to stay in relationships that turn abusive—where else would they go when they have no money because the government has forced them into financial dependency?
Now, one may argue that most spouses share expenses and support each other financially, so each spouse’s income should be considered and looked together as making up one family unit.
But, setting aside the fact that many people with disabilities have spouses with low incomes themselves, look at the unbalanced standard that gets applied to persons with disabilities.
Two-income families are essential to staying afloat in today's economy, where the cost of living is on the rise.
As of 2019, the average household income of Canadian couples was $98,690—vastly more than the piddly amount someone can make before their spouse is cut from disability assistance, as well as several times higher than disabled couples can collectively make on disability assistance in any province.
Yet provincial governments across Canada do not claw back the earnings of couples without disabilities in the same way, no matter how much they make and despite their earnings being far greater on average.
So why are persons with disabilities singled out and prevented from having financial independence if they choose to pursue relationships with the people they love? Why can’t they love one another openly without being cut off from essential financial support?
There is no good answer.
Policies like this force people who are already struggling further to the margins, perpetuating poverty and inequality.
To end this systemic discrimination, Canadians with disabilities need to be allowed to retain eligibility for financial supports which help them live with dignity and contribute more to their communities.
The federal government must also fast-track the Canada Disability Benefit, which they hyped prior to the election as a way to end disability poverty, only to put it on the shelf and let it stagnate.
Too many people have suffered for too long, and it is time for change.
Spencer van Vloten is the Editor of BCDisability.com.