The Household Income Policy needs to be changed for persons with a disability. We should not have to live alone, and we deserve the same rights as everyone else; for example, getting married without losing everything – a New Brunswicker with a mobility disability.
The Department of Social Development’s Household Income Policy stipulates that only one member of a single household shall be eligible to receive a Social Assistance cheque. This policy implies that everyone within a single “economic household” can share the necessities of food, shelter and housing. However, it is clearly stated within the policy that there are exceptions for those who are blind, deaf, or have a disability where more than one person within the household may be eligible to receive social assistance at the same time – unless they have a legal or common-law spouse. This stipulation forces New Brunswickers living with a disability to choose between getting married and living with their spouse or living alone while receiving an income.
This policy clearly infringes upon the human rights of persons with a disability, yet the various impacts of the Household Income Policy continue to be overlooked. That is why we believe common-law and legal spouses must be added to the list of exceptions within the Household Income Policy, so that persons with a disability have the freedom of living with their spouse while also remaining financially independent.
According to the Department of Social Development, the annual income for New Brunswickers with a disability who are on social assistance is $8,364, which falls well below the poverty line that ranges between $17,747 and $19,619. These statistics are in part due to limited employment opportunities. As a result of very few accessible workplaces, transportation options and barriers to accessing post-secondary education, persons with a disability are often forced to resort to the financial benefits offered through the Department of Social Development, such as social assistance. That is why so many people are affected by the Household Income Policy and its restrictive nature. This includes not only those with a disability, but also their spouses. These individuals are expected to provide financial support for their partner with a disability as well as themselves if they choose to live together.
This is simply unjust, and it is clear how the Household Income Policy has an inevitable impact on spousal relationships as well as the mental health of both partners.
Within our student placement at Ability New Brunswick, we had the opportunity to interview and survey individuals with a mobility disability to examine their financial experiences. In relation to Social Assistance and the impact of the Household Income Policy, several individuals noted that they were forced to live alone as a result of the policy.
Not only is this unacceptable, but it is a blatant violation of human rights in regard to a specific group of marginalized folks. Some participants also suggested that the Household Income Policy works to dehumanize persons with a disability by disregarding their innate desire to have spousal relationships and live with their partners, like anyone else.
The Household Income Policy is designed to ensure that those who can share basic necessities within a household, do so. The intent of this is to limit the number of individuals receiving social assistance which ultimately reduces government spending. However, prioritizing government savings over the basic rights and freedoms of persons with a disability is simply inhumane. The existing exception within the Household Income Policy for those who are blind, deaf, or living with a disability shows that the government recognizes the financial need among persons with a disability in this province. However, this needs to extend to those with a disability who also want to live with their spouse.
The Household Income Policy puts up many barriers for those living with a disability. Though, the first step in altering this policy to be more accommodating and inclusive is to add common-law and legal spouses to the list of exceptions for persons with a disability. Especially at a time when our province is experiencing an affordable housing crisis, we should be encouraging folks to live together, not pushing them apart. Ultimately, persons with a disability deserve the same rights and freedoms as everyone else. Financial independence and the ability to live with your loving partner should never be something that you have to fight for – but until this policy is reconsidered, that is the case for those living with a disability in New Brunswick.
Josh Simpson, Kelsey Savoie-Moxon & Jayme Fraser are St. Thomas University Social Work students engaged in a social action project with Ability New Brunswick. Ability NB’s mission is to empower the independence and full community participation of persons throughout New Brunswick who have a mobility disability.