PEI

Pandemic financial hardships worse for Islanders with disabilities, survey suggests

A new survey released by Statistics Canada is suggesting that the pandemic has had a worse impact for those living with disabilities and long-term conditions.

Persons with multiple disabilities or conditions more likely to report job loss or decrease in hours

Marcia Carroll, executive director of the P.E.I. Council of People with Disabilities, says those with mobility issues may have more difficulty navigating changed spaces like grocery stores. (CBC)

A new survey released by Statistics Canada is suggesting that the pandemic has had a worse impact for those living with disabilities and long-term conditions.

More than 60 per cent of respondents said they have had difficulty meeting at least one financial obligation or essential need. This is mainly due to temporary or permanent job losses and reductions in income since March.

"We know that people with disabilities are some of the poorest people in our community and some of the most isolated," said Marcia Carroll, executive director of the P.E.I. Council of People with Disabilities.

"There's a number of things that could have been done to ease that isolation and that increase in poverty."

Incomes go down, costs go up

In the data released Thursday, one-third of respondents said they had lost their job or had an decrease in hours. People with multiple conditions were also more likely to report job losses than those with just one disability or condition.

Stats Canada surveyed 13,000 Canadians between June 23 and July 6.

Among those who had experienced hardships, the top concerns were meeting food and grocery needs and purchasing personal protective equipment.

In P.E.I., the cost of food is up over this time last year, and food banks have reported receiving a rush of new clients during the pandemic. 

Part of the problem, Carroll said, is that some costs -- like food, medication dispensing and extra deliveries --- are up, but incomes have largely dropped or remained stagnant during the pandemic for those with disabilities. 

People with disabilities should be able to go through the same process as any individual and receive the same kind of support— Marcia Carroll, P.E.I. Council of People with Disabilities.

She said programs like CERB were flawed because those receiving disability benefits did not reach the minimum threshold of income to be eligible.

"If programs and services are going to be fair and equitable and inclusive to everybody, people with disabilities should be able to go through the same process as any individual and receive the same kind of support," Carroll said.

"That was a big gap that we saw in financial resources that were available to everybody else except for people living with disabilities."

In Canada, individuals receiving the Canada Pension Plan Disability Benefit are able to earn up to $5,800 in additional income a year.

Carroll said many people work a few hours a week at a job like a campground to earn that money, but with the economic situation, many of those jobs are gone.

"They used it to get their winter tires on, they may have been able to do maintenance on their home or been able to pay for their car insurance or buy a car," she said. 

"The stuff that makes getting through the winter possible became very precarious as a result of that loss of income."

Not just financial

Carroll said governments should have done a better job of consulting with those who have lived experiences with disabilities before they issued health directives and policy statements.

Carroll says having to queue or wait in line without rest areas can be a barrier for many people. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

This is because changes to the way communities operate have also caused challenges for those with disabilities. 

She said standing in long lines has been challenging for those with mobility issues, masks have caused issues for those who rely on lip reading and those who rely on service animals have faced challenges.

"Talk to people with disabilities," she said. "Systemic barriers can be removed so that a person can experience full citizenship like everybody else."

The Statistics Canada survey is based on crowdsourced data gathered in June and July. It included people with sensory, physical, cognitive and mental health difficulties. 

More from CBC P.E.I.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nicola currently produces Island Morning on CBC Radio. She is a graduate of St. Thomas University's journalism program and grew up on P.E.I., where she is happy to now be a multi-platform reporter and producer. Got a story? Email nicola.macleod@cbc.ca

With files from Kerry Campbell

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