Motion No. 243
That the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities be instructed to undertake a study of the current level of financial support provided to persons with disabilities through the Canada Pension Plan Disability Benefit and report to the House no later than May 2007.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in the House today to Motion No. 243 which calls on Parliament to ask the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities to undertake a study of the current level of financial support provided to persons with disabilities through the Canada Pension Plan Disability Benefit and report back to the House no later than May 2007.
An individual's income security is closely linked to one's ability to fully participate in society. As a member of Parliament and I am sure many members in this House share my concern with the number of people with disabilities who face constant challenge in meeting the bare minimum of basic living expenses.
All too often, constituents come into my office and tell me about having to choose between purchasing their medications or paying for food and rent. It is absolutely unacceptable in a nation as prosperous as Canada.
In December 2006, the United Nations adopted a landmark Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The convention focuses on the rights and development of people with disabilities and presents a vision where disabled people will no longer have to endure discriminatory practices and attitudes that have been permitted to prevail for far too long.
For Canada to fully respond to the need for every person to contribute to the best of their abilities and to fulfill their potential, we must address the income deficiency that exists among people who live with disabilities.
Research shows that Canadians with disabilities have a lower than average income and rely more heavily on government programs for income support than other Canadians. People with disabilities are not always able to earn an adequate income through employment.
While the average earnings of people with disabilities increased by 3.7%, compare that with the 5.3% that people found they gained in earning ability without disabilities between the years 1999 and 2004.
The average earnings of people with disabilities remain substantially lower than those without disabilities. In 2004, average earnings for people with disabilities were $30,700 a year, almost 15% less than what people earned without disabilities who had an average earning of $35,300.
People with disabilities are more likely to have low earnings. About 17.1% of people with disabilities have earnings of less than $5,000 in contrast to people earning that amount of money without disabilities who are 12.4% of the population.
In addition, people with disabilities are less likely to have high earnings. When we compare that earning bracket, about 18.4% of people with disabilities have incomes of $50,000 or more a year and this compares to 23.4% in that earning bracket who do not have disabilities.
There are significant differences between the incomes of men and women as well. For both sexes, people with disabilities are more likely to have lower earnings and are less likely to have higher earnings.
However, women with disabilities are much more likely to have very low earnings and 19.6% have earnings under $5,000 a year. This contrasts with men in that same group with 14.6% who are much less likely to be in that high earnings bracket. Some 10.9% of women with disabilities earn $50,000 or more a year in contrast to the 25.6% of men in that bracket with disabilities.
Last fall, researchers at the University of Manitoba released a study that revealed women with disabilities were far more likely to be victims of domestic violence. The study found that women with disabilities were almost 40% more likely than non-disabled women to be victims of violence, sadly enough, at the hands of their husbands.
In particular, women with disabilities are at risk at facing severe violence. Perpetrators of such horrific violence may feel that women with disabilities are vulnerable and are less likely to be able to resist domination, jealous and possessive as well as violent behaviour.
Further, it was shown that disabled spouses were less likely to report the violent behaviour because they tended to be more dependent on their partners for daily assistance.
Although many people with disabilities can become self-sufficient if given the opportunity, some are unable to be in part of the labour market and must rely on governments to provide the financial resources to meet their basic needs of food, shelter and clothing.
People with disabilities are three times more likely to have income from government sources as their major source of income. This reliance on government sources has decreased over the years. It has come down from the 32% that it was in 1999.
However, we know the Government of Canada provides support for people with disabilities and we also try to give some financial relief to their caregivers through a variety of income support measures. We provide, through the government, tax measures for people with disabilities and people who care for them to ensure they are treated more fairly. The Income Tax Act offers tax privileges to registered charities and this, too, contributes to the building of the capacity within the disabled community.
The personal income tax system provides a number of tax credits, as well as deductions for people with disabilities and their caregivers. There is the disability tax credit, the disability tax credit supplement for children, medical expense tax credit, the caregiver credit, the infirm dependant credit, the disability supports deduction and a refundable medical expense supplement. All of these supports need to be looked at to see if they are adequate for people who use this as their sole source of income.
In 2003, the technical advisory committee on tax measures for persons with disabilities was established to provide advice on how to address tax issues that affect people living with disabilities.
Budget 2006 completed the implementation of the committee's policy recommendations, as well as going beyond. It increased the maximum annual child disability benefit to $2,300 and that was up from $2,044. The child disability benefit is a supplement of the child tax benefit that, I would point out, was brought in by a Liberal government.
It extended the eligibility for child disability benefit to middle and higher income families caring for a child. It also increased the maximum amount of the refundable medical expense supplement up to $1,000 from the $767 that was in place previous to the 2006 tax year.
The purpose of my motion is to seek a review of the financial support provided to disabled Canadians through the Canadian pension plan disability. In 2005-06 almost 296,000 individuals with severe and prolonged disabilities, along with 89,000 of their dependent children, received $3.3 billion from the Canadian pension plan disability through monthly benefit payments. In 2006, the maximum benefit available was $1,031. This amounts to roughly $12,372 annually.
On average, eligible Canadians are receiving $775 a month, or $9,300 annually. The children's monthly benefit in 2006 was $200.47 for each eligible child. Far too often the CPP disability cheque is the only source of income for people with disabilities and they receive it, as I said, on a monthly basis. They have to use these limited funds to cover rent or mortgages, pay their utilities, buy their food and pay for their medication.
Quite simply, the sum of money that is stretched in so many directions is not adequate to cover the very basic needs of these people and the basic necessities of life.
There are more than three million Canadians with disabilities. Despite progress in the last two decades, Canadians with disabilities and their families still face significant barriers. It is clear that the experience of exclusion, poverty and isolation for people with disabilities continues. Quite simply, this is unacceptable.
Some of the most difficult meetings I have had with constituents are with those people who have the impossible decision of choosing whether to buy food, pay for their medication or cover their rent.
In my community, there are organizations that help disabled residents and disabled residents do turn to them for support, for fellowship, as well as for information on how they can make these limited resources last the month. These community resources now provide food hampers and prepare 650 lunches per month for clients who otherwise would not be able to eat.
Canada's budget has been in a position of surplus for a decade. Over that time, governments have reinvested in various priorities. Efforts, some of which I have already mentioned, have been put in place to address the needs of Canadians with disabilities, as well as lower income Canadians but we need to do more. We have the resources to do more and it is our responsibility to do so.
The motion I have before the House asks for a review pertaining to the CPP disability but I hope it will go much further than that. I hope it will rejuvenate a multi-jurisdictional dialogue that will bring forward increased investments to substantially improve the availability of supports, as well as to alleviate the poverty experienced by Canadians living with disabilities.
As a government, as a nation, we have a commitment to inclusion and full participation. Members of this House share a willingness to see that no one gets left behind and that no one is denied opportunities.
This message was most eloquently expressed by the former prime minister in his Speech from the Throne in February 2004. The right hon. member for LaSalle—Émard said:
What kind of Canada do we want?
--a Canada where people with disabilities and their families...have the support they need.
Canadians agree. An Environics poll from 2004 states that more than 80% of Canadians believe that people with disabilities should be supported by public funds to live fully and participate in their communities.
Further, the poll states that the government has a role, a primary role, for supporting persons when it comes to providing good health care, reliable transportation, mobility equipment and education.
The need is great. We need to take action to ensure we are doing all we can to uphold the rights of people with disabilities.
I encourage this House to commit to action that will address the income deficiency that exists among people with disabilities. We owe it to them and, quite frankly, we can do no less.