Mr. Chair, members of the committee, good morning.
My name is Krista Wilcox. I am the director general of the Office for Disability Issues at the Department of Employment and Social Development.
Joining me are Andrew Brown, director general of Employment Insurance Policy, Skills and Employment, Kris Johnson, director general of the Canada Pension Plan Disability Directorate, and Gertrude Zagler, acting director general of Federal Programs at the Labour Program.
Let me begin by thanking the committee for the opportunity to address this very important issue. While all people with disabilities may face barriers to economic and social inclusion, people with episodic disabilities may experience specific challenges owing to the nature of their condition.
Episodic disabilities are characterized by periods of wellness and periods of illness or disability that vary in severity, length and predictability. According to the Episodic Disabilities Network, “Examples of conditions that are episodically disabling are mental illness, arthritis, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, crohns and colitis, and some forms of cancer and rare diseases”, amongst others.
While this is a useful starting point, what identifies an episodic disability is the intermittent variation in the ability to function, which can occur in individuals with a wide range of single or multiple conditions. Because episodic disabilities can be unpredictable, people with these types of conditions may face particular barriers to employment and be at risk of financial insecurity, as they may be excluded from the workforce altogether because of these barriers, even though they have skills and initiative.
The office for disability issues has worked with other levels of government and disability organizations over the past decade to further our understanding of episodic disabilities. This has been, to a considerable extent, pioneering work. There has been little by way of international resources to draw on in this area.
For example, through collaborative work under the federal, provincial and territorial social services forum, the disability advisory committee commissioned a study by the Social Research and Demonstration Corporation on the situation of people with episodic disabilities in Canada. The research included both a data analysis study, which was based primarily on the 2012 Canadian survey on disability, and a literature review.
Some key findings of the data analysis were as follows. About 4% of the working-aged population had episodic disabilities, compared with 10% with disabilities in general. About 40% of those with episodic disabilities had severe or very severe disabilities. Episodic does not mean that the disability is less significant. Having an episodic disability means having poorer employment outcomes and lower incomes.
As with disabilities generally, more women than men have episodic disabilities. The researchers found differences between women and men in a number of important respects. In particular, women with episodic disabilities were less likely to be working and more likely to have low incomes than were men with episodic disabilities. Among people with episodic disabilities who were employed, the percentages with part-time or temporary jobs were similar to those for the general population. The important difference is that fewer were employed at all.
To add to our current knowledge on the experience of people with episodic disabilities, the 2017 Canadian survey on disability is the first national survey to contain a specific module on episodic disabilities. Data around people with episodic disabilities will be available in 2019, following the release of initial results, which took place yesterday. The Government of Canada is committed to advancing the social and economic participation of Canadians with disabilities, including those with episodic disabilities.
I'll share with you information on the relevant support services and legislation provided through Employment and Social Development Canada. A cornerstone of the Government of Canada's accessibility agenda is Bill C-81, the accessible Canada act. The act would, if passed, introduce measures within federal jurisdiction to improve accessibility for all people in Canada, including those with episodic disabilities. Bill C-81 includes a specific reference to episodic disabilities in the definition of disability. It would require consideration of the particular accessibility needs of people with a variety of disabilities, including episodic disabilities, and the identification and removal of barriers and prevention of new barriers in areas of federal jurisdiction.
Bill C-81 is grounded in Canada's commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. People with disabilities, as recognized in the convention, strongly support the principle of “nothing about us, without us”.
Accordingly, the Government of Canada conducted an extensive and groundbreaking consultation across Canada, in which people with and without disabilities participated. Bill C-81 is based on what we learned during those consultations. People with episodic disabilities and the organizations that represent them, such as the MS Society, were active participants in this process.
To further implement the convention in Canada, the Government of Canada has been working with provinces and territories towards Canada's accession to the optional protocol to the convention. The optional protocol would enable people with disabilities to bring forward complaints to the United Nations if they believe their rights have been violated and if they have exhausted domestic remedies.
While income supports for people with disabilities fall primarily within the purview of the provinces and territories, the Government of Canada provides contributory income replacement programs for those who are unable to work as a result of a disability. The Canada pension plan disability provides partial earnings replacement to Canadians between the ages of 18 and 65 who have contributed to the CPP and can no longer work on a regular basis because of a severe and prolonged disability. A benefit is also available for eligible dependent children of CPPD beneficiaries.
To qualify for CPPD, applicants must meet both contributory and medical eligibility criteria. Contributory eligibility is met when an individual has made CPP contributions in four of the last six years, or in three of the last six years for long-term contributors with at least 25 years of contributions. Medical eligibility is met when an individual has a severe and prolonged disability as defined in the CPP legislation. “Severe” means that a person is incapable of regularly “pursuing any substantially gainful occupation”. “Prolonged” means “that the disability is likely to be long continued and of indefinite duration, or is likely to result in death”.
In 2016-17, CPPD paid $4.3 billion to 335,000 disabled beneficiaries and 83,000 of their children, representing approximately 10.2% of the $42.5 billion of total CPP expenditures.
The employment insurance sickness benefit is available to eligible claimants who are unable to work because of an illness or injury. The benefit provides up to 15 weeks of partial income replacement to allow workers time to restore their health so that they can return to work. The EI sickness benefit provided $1.6 billion in support to approximately 379,000 claimants in 2016-17.
EI sickness claimants have the flexibility to use the 15 weeks of EI sickness benefits over their 52-week benefit period. For example, a person may take three weeks of sickness benefits, and then return to work if he or she is feeling well enough, knowing that 12 additional weeks remain available during the benefit period.
Earlier this year, changes were made to provide new flexibility in response to recommendations from the MS Society and other health charities. Specifically, the EI working while on claim provisions were extended to sickness and maternity claimants, providing them with more flexibility to manage their return to work and keep more of their earnings.
To complement the EI benefits, under the Canada Labour Code, employees in the federally regulated private sector are entitled to job-protected sick leave for up to 17 weeks if they have worked for at least three consecutive months with the same employer. In addition, the code was amended, through Budget Implementation Act, 2017, No. 2, to provide employees with the right to request flexible work arrangements, which could benefit an employee with an episodic disability.
Further, Bill C-86, the budget implementation act, 2018, proposes additional amendments to the code that could be beneficial in the context of episodic disabilities. This includes eliminating the three-month wait period for sick leave, so that all federally regulated employees have access to this protection regardless of how long they have worked with their employer; allowing sick leave to be used for medical appointments; introducing a new five-day personal leave, of which three days would be paid; and allowing employers to request a medical certificate only when an employee is away for three or more consecutive days.
To strengthen and grow the middle class and help Canadians find good jobs, the Government of Canada now has new workforce development agreements with most provinces and territories, and will announce details soon. The new WDAs consolidate and replace the Canada job fund agreements, the labour market agreements for persons with disabilities and the targeted initiative for older workers.
These agreements enable provinces and territories to provide assistance and skills training with the flexibility to respond to the diverse needs of their respective clients. Under the WDAs, the Government of Canada provides provinces and territories with $722 million annually as well as an additional $900 million over six years, from 2017-18 to 2022-23. The WDAs will increase support for persons with disabilities beyond what was provided through the labour market agreements for persons with disabilities. From 2017-18 to 2022-23, approximately $2.7 billion will be invested by federal, provincial and territorial governments in targeted skills training and employment supports.
Provinces and territories can continue offering programs similar to those that were offered under the previous agreements but have the flexibility to adapt these models to create new interventions, including specific interventions to support people with episodic disabilities, to meet the needs of their local labour markets. Additionally, ESDC invests approximately $40 million a year in the opportunities fund for persons with disabilities. This federal program is delivered through contribution agreements with service providers who offer a wide range of tools to help persons with disabilities, including those with episodic disabilities, to prepare for, obtain and maintain employment or self-employment.
The opportunities fund is unique, as it offers employment-focused interventions and assistance to improve employment situations for a specific component of the persons with disabilities population who have limited or no attachment to the labour market. Since 2018-19, additional funding of approximately $18 million over six years will be invested in the opportunities fund to help employers who have demonstrated commitment to hiring persons with disabilities but need support to find the right match and create workplaces that allow employees with disabilities to reach their full potential.
The Government of Canada also provides support to Canadians with disabilities to help improve their financial security through programs like the Canada disability savings program. Launched in 2008, the CDSP is a long-term savings program that helps Canadians with severe and prolonged disabilities and their families save for the future.
The Government of Canada provides grants and bonds matching investments by individuals. In recognition that disabilities may have intermittent but long-term effects, the Government of Canada introduced a new rule in 2012 extending the period that an RDSP may remain open for a beneficiary who ceases to qualify for the disability tax credit if a health professional attests that they are likely to become eligible again in the foreseeable future. This measure can assist people with episodic disabilities who may lose their DTC eligibility during periods of wellness.
ESDC also supports the disability community through funding under the social development partnerships program to help improve the social and economic inclusion of people with disabilities in our communities. SDPP is an $11-million grant and contribution program that makes investments in the not-for-profit disability organizations in Canada. The program provides operating and project funding to not-for-profit disability organizations to achieve this work.
In recent years, we have funded projects through this program. For example, the Mood Disorders Society of Canada, in partnership with the Arthritis Society, received a contribution of approximately half a million dollars for a project entitled “Work With Us” to address the complex issues that affect persons with chronic diseases, particularly depression, arthritis and chronic pain. This project uses an innovative cross-sector approach to develop and provide education and supports for persons living with depression, arthritis and chronic pain as well as for workplace colleagues, employers, unions, families and friends.
That concludes my opening remarks. I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.