By Spencer van Vloten
Consider for a moment how it would sound if the government proposed a new law by stating the following: "If two people are in a relationship, only one of them can have an income, and they must be the financial caregiver of the other. Dual incomes and mutually beneficial financial relationships aren’t allowed."
Not the most convincing proposal, is it? Even sounds a bit crazy. Well, for British Columbians with disabilities, it is disturbingly close to reality.
That is because B.C. policy prevents most people with spouses from receiving disability or income assistance.
All that is required for them to be cut off 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 who is in a two-person family unit.
That’s only $16,530.76 a year, about the part-time equivalent of the province’s $15.20 an hour minimum wage.
And it is not only income they are cut off from. Being ruled ineligible for disability assistance often means a loss of other crucial supplements and benefits, such as for travel or health, that they would have been able to receive.
What does this mean?
It means that in order to receive much-needed financial assistance, persons with disabilities who cannot work or can only work part-time are forced to hide their relationships or to distance themselves and not have them in the first place.
It means that if they stay in those relationships, they are stripped of their financial independence, expected to be cared for like a child by a spouse who may earn as little as part-time minimum wage.
It means that without a source of income, they are pressured by financial necessity to stay in relationships that turn abusive—where else would they go when they have no income to afford living on their own? Well, I guess a cardboard box on the sidewalk is an option too.
Now, one may argue that most spouses support each other financially in some way, so each spouse’s income should be considered and looked at together as making up one family unit.
But even 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.
It is well known that two-income families are essential to staying afloat in today's economy, where the cost of living is on the rise.
In 2019, the average household income of B.C. couples was over $80,000—many times higher than what someone can make before their spouse is cut from disability assistance, and also far higher than the $22,236.72 disabled couples can collectively make on disability assistance.
Yet the government doesn’t claw back the earnings of couples without disabilities, no matter how much they make.
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 does government policy treat them like burdens to their partner, when the same would not be true if they were not disabled?
The answer is simple: there is no answer. It is unfair. It is discrimination that runs against all the overused rhetoric we hear about equality, building back better, and creating healthy, vibrant communities.
Back in March, the B.C. government announced a $175 increase to social assistance—which includes disability and income assistance. Although this increase was a step in the right direction, it does nothing for disabled persons who are ineligible for financial support because their spouse earns more than a measly $16,530.76 a year—they still get a big fat $0.
Policies like this do nothing but promote poverty and abuse among people who are already struggling. They are treated as dependent children who are to be babysat, not as adults with their own dreams and desires for independence.
To have a truly inclusive British Columbia, a province for all, these damaging restrictions must be ended. Persons with disabilities need to retain their eligibility for financial supports that empower them and better enable them to provide for themselves and give back to their community.
More than 30,000 people have signed BCDisability.com’s petition to end this policy, which punishes people with disabilities just for loving, and I hope more will join in.
Too many people have suffered for too long, and it is time for change.