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IRIS is excited to launch a new policy primer for disability communities and the general public about the federal government’s plan to introduce a national disability income benefit. In her blog post (below), author Sherri Torjman introduces the primer, and points to some of the reasons why we need to start conversations in our communities today about this major addition to federal income security programs.  

As Torjman says in the primer “Community voices must be heard with respect to this new benefit. Community members need to contribute to the nuts-and-bolts construction of this program.” 

Read the Primer here


The purpose of this primer is to present background information to enable the disability community and families that have family members with intellectual disabilities to participate in conversations regarding this significant development.   

The primer explains basic concepts and provides the vocabulary to encourage discussions with family, friends and neighbours, elected representatives and the media.   

Just like the GIS, the new benefit will be part of a larger group of programs comprising the disability income system.  The primer explores some of the central questions related to the role of the benefit within that larger system. 

There are many lessons to apply to the design of the disability income benefit.  Like the GIS has done for seniors, the new benefit can play a vital role in reducing poverty among persons with disabilities.  It can supplement low earnings or low income.  It can also replace income that has been lost or interrupted on a short-term or long-term basis.   

The proposed disability income benefit will help meet basic needs.  But it will never be enough to cover the additional, and often very high, expenses that many persons with disabilities incur.  The disability supports agenda is equally important.  It must be tackled through a number of linked strategies that include accommodation, assistance with costs and provision of services. 

Like the design of the GIS, the new benefit will be income-tested, which has unique advantages.  Income-tested programs do not require work history or contributions.  They are administratively simple and non-stigmatizing.  

The primer points out that the disability income benefit must be adequate not only in the actual amounts it pays.  It must also be adequate in relative terms by keeping pace with increases in the cost of living.  Moreover, the benefit must be carefully designed so as not to discourage individuals from participating in the paid labour market.  Nor should it heavily penalize private savings.   

At the end of the day, eligibility for the disability income benefit will be the major challenge.  Age and net income will be key considerations.  The more difficult questions will arise around the determination of disability.  While there are many definitions of disability, they do not readily translate into program eligibility criteria.  

The Throne Speech presents an historic opportunity to put in place a crucial piece that has been missing from the income puzzle.  If well designed, the new disability income benefit can make a substantial dent in poverty.  Ideally, it will also serve as the foundation for the broader reform of the disability income system in Canada. 

– Sherri Torjman