Nfld. & Labrador

Pandemic relief money no help to Corner Brook woman living on disability

Angela Peddle, who receives permanent disability benefits, says the money she gets isn't enough to live on, and it's well below the amount the CERB provides.

Group that works with people facing barriers says story is a familiar one

Angela Peddle is on permanent disability benefits, which aren't sufficient for her basic needs. She isn't sure what she'd do without the support of her parents, including her mother Jean. (Bernice Hillier/CBC)

As children, no one thinks they'll grow up to be poor, on disability benefits, and still living with their parents. 

It wasn't Angela Peddle's dream for her future either. But it's her reality now, and it hurts.

Peddle, 44, says the pandemic has only highlighted for her the gap between the disability benefits she receives and what's considered by most people to be adequate to meet a person's basic needs.

Take the Canada Emergency Response Benefit — or CERB — for example; it has provided $2,000 per month in financial benefits to those who've lost income as a result of COVID-19.

Compared with Peddle's combined total monthly income of $935 from Canada Pension Plan permanent disability benefits and provincial income support supplement, the CERB sounds like a windfall to her.

"That would make a huge difference in my life. Like $2,000 a month, I'd be able to pay for my medications, I'd be able to pay for my dental care, I'd have my own place," said Peddle.

"I wouldn't have to burden Mom and Dad, and they could sell their house, and it would make a huge difference."

Coming into focus

Peddle's adult life didn't start out like this.

She graduated from the visual arts program at the province's public college campus in Stephenville in 1999, and she went to work in Calgary at a camera store and portrait studio.

Angela Peddle says she took this photo from the window of her room on the psychiatric ward at Western Memorial Regional Hospital when she was a patient there. (Submitted by Angela Peddle)

But that normal adult life came to a screeching halt as Peddle started experiencing mental health challenges, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and bulimia. She made the difficult decision to come back to Newfoundland, to family and home.

"I was living in Calgary, doing my photography. I had a lot of friends up there. I don't have many friends here. I'm really, really disappointed in myself … that I can't bring myself out of it, like with the depression and the anxiety," she said. 

Peddle has also been diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder called myasthenia gravis, which causes weakness and rapid fatigue of arm and leg muscles, and can even cause difficulties with swallowing and vision.

Peddle hasn't been employed since 2006, and was approved for permanent CPP disability benefits in 2011.

Roof over her head

Peddle's biggest financial challenge is that her monthly income of $935 (from CPP and income support) doesn't cover expenses. That's in spite of the bargain she gets on the one-bedroom basement apartment she rents from her parents.

They charge her $350 per month for a unit that her mother is confident she could rent for $600 a month in the current Corner Brook market.

I don't know what's going to happen to me.- Angela Peddle

Her parents are in their 70s and would like to be able to sell the property to downsize. But, with their daughter having living accommodations with them for less than she'd pay elsewhere, Jean Peddle said they don't feel able to do it, even though keeping up with the snow and ice in the winter is presenting a bigger challenge every year.

"We even considered selling but we would like to see Angela settled somewhere before we would do that on her," said Jean Peddle.
"She's my daughter and, I mean, you got to support her as much as you can."

Angela Peddle still enjoys photography, but she hasn't worked in the field since she left Calgary in 2004. (Submitted by Angela Peddle)

Angela Peddle said she doesn't like to be a burden to her parents at this stage in their lives.

"I don't know what I'm going to do. I don't know what's going to happen to me," she said. "Sometimes I think it would be better if I just went before them, and I know Mom don't like to hear that."

Jean Peddle says it's scary to think about her daughter's situation in light of Angela's mental health struggles and previous suicide attempts.

"It frightens the life out of me because, when somebody is so far down, you don't know what they would do."

Not an exception

For those who work with people with mental illness or with other barriers to full participation in the community, Angela Peddle's story is all too familiar.

Sarah Mills is the program manager for the employment services division of Stella's Circle, an organization that runs social enterprises and provides support to people in situations similar to Peddle's.

"That's a really common story," she said. "We hear from people who are being cared for or are getting supports from parents who are becoming of an age that they're not able to continue those supports."

Sarah Mills of Stella's Circle says it's not uncommon for disability benefits and other government supports to be insufficient to meet people's basic needs. But, she says, when people live in poverty, it affects every aspect of their lives. (Submitted by Sarah Mills)

Mills said we're lucky to live in a country that has financial support systems in place, such as Canada Pension disability benefits, but they don't provide enough money for people to live on.

"The cost of living went up while the amount of benefits did not keep pace with that," said Mills, who pointed to the rising cost of groceries as an example.

"There's no room for those things to keep getting more expensive and people being able to continue to purchase all of them."

Pandemic poverty gap

Mills said the pandemic has further highlighted the disparity between those who have a stable, adequate income, and those who struggle to meet their basic needs.

Mills said she can understand Peddle's frustration as federal funding programs like the CERB seem to point toward a minimum guaranteed income.

Mills says Stella's Circle hasn't taken a policy position on a guaranteed basic income, a concept that's been widely discussed, but the organization maintains that being poor is detrimental to people in many ways.

"When you provide people with enough money to have their needs met every month, then their health improves, their ability to access services improves, just the dignity of people when they have enough money to cover what they need is so important, and it provides all kinds of spinoff benefits," said Mills.

Angela Peddle trained as a photographer in the visual arts program in the N.L. public college system. (Submitted by Angela Peddle)

Peddle would like to see disability benefits increased to at least bring people's income up to the poverty line. Otherwise, she said, having a disability of any kind and relying on government assistance for an income equates to being poor. 

A recent federal announcement of COVID-19-related relief for people with disabilities applies only to those who qualify for the Disability Tax Credit. Claiming that tax credit requires a minimum income threshold, which Peddle and many more are below, meaning it's of no help to them.

Mills said it's important to remember that the poverty of individuals affects the well-being of everyone in society.

"We really want to highlight that when people live in poverty, it affects the whole community, it affects health spending, it affects school, education spending," she said.

"More money in people's pockets is certainly important," said Mills.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Bernice Hillier is a host of CBC Newfoundland Morning, which airs weekday mornings across western and central Newfoundland, as well as southern Labrador.