For many, marriage is a happy time full of celebrations and new beginnings. Today, I am going to tell you a bit about my love story and why it has become such a challenge while living under New Brunswick’s household income policy for social assistance recipients.
I have known my fiancé Lucas for many years as we went to school together. We reconnected online years later and began dating on August 21, 2012.
Due to my cerebral palsy, our relationship got serious more quickly than others might. I had to go through some medical procedures and at the time Lucas quickly became my rock. Because I have general anxiety disorder as well as cerebral palsy, Lucas took public transportation with me and assisted me with my transportation because I was nervous to go alone through the city of Saint John.
During our relationship, I also discovered I have a condition known as Eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE), which became an emergency situation that led me to needing to get my throat dilated and have a biopsy.
Lucas has been with me through my hip realignment surgery and four foot reconstruction surgeries.
After four and a half years of dating, in February of 2017, Lucas and I went to a Brad Paisley concert, which was always on my bucket list and it was on this night that he proposed. I have dreamt of getting married since I was a little girl. Normally, this is a very exciting milestone for a newly engaged couple. Unfortunately, due to our circumstances, we would soon realize that we will have more roadblocks than the typical couple in order to secure our future together.
Due to the current household income policy for social assistance in New Brunswick, we cannot financially afford to get married because I would lose my current social assistance and my rent subsidy.
The province’s household income policy states that any household in New Brunswick with two or more people must combine with incomes into one. Therefore, once we married, my husband’s income would count for both of us and stop me from receiving government support. As I am living with a disability, once I get married, my partner is legally forced to become financially responsible for me and all my additional needs.
This policy puts a lot of pressure on a partner. Lucas must take time off work to bring me to appointments and spend a lot of his earnings on my health, which isn’t what he should have to do. Lucas will have to make enough money to support both him and I. However, with my disability comes a lot of additional fees for equipment, medical bills, expensive medications, dietary requirements and accessible transportation that many people may not think about. The household income policy in New Brunswick means I lose my ability to help financially and, instead, I become a financial burden to my partner.
It’s not that I don’t want to work and help Lucas, but I am living with a chronic mobility disability since birth and have not been able to get ahead. I’ve had approximately 20 surgeries in my lifetime. I am now in the rehabilitation stages, recovering from a left foot reconstruction surgery. Recovery from this surgery will take over two years for my bones to heal and I am now completing bi-weekly physiotherapy. Costs of all post-operative supplies are also incurred by me. Because of my disability, I have not been able to work enough hours through my life to qualify for the Canadian Disability Pension Plan (CPP).
Life with a disability is a lot more complex than one may think about. Simple tasks such as using the bathroom or taking the bus become daunting and complex. Cerebral palsy affects body movement, muscle control and coordination, muscle tone, reflex, posture and balance. It can also impact fine motor skills, gross motor skills and oral motor functioning. As a result, I use a wheelchair for mobility.
Once I get married, my partner will be left to pay the bills. All of them. The ones we can hardly afford when we were both making an income. Due to this unrealistic standard, I have remained engaged for over three years.
I have spent the past three years trying to find a way we can get married, live together and stay financially stable while both maintaining our health and well-being.
However, the only obvious answer is to re-evaluate the province’s household income policy for social assistance recipients. Those living with a mobility disability and cannot work should not have to be forced to pick between love and financial stability. The current system makes it difficult for someone to try to become financially independent and maintain a well-balanced quality of life.
Just because I am differently-abled does not mean I don’t have the courage to stand up for what is right. Like my friends and family, I deserve to follow my dreams to their fullest potential. Getting married is something I’ve always dreamt of and my disability shouldn’t cause my marriage to lead me into a life of poverty and financial uncertainty. No one chooses the cards they are dealt. We just need to live and learn together and stand by one another. With determination and a positive attitude, anything is possible, and giving up is not an option for me.
Kaitlyn Layden is a Saint John resident living with cerebral palsy. She loves coffee, her cat and is an advocate for those living with disabilities. She also owns the small business, Layden’s Keepsakes.