On behalf of five organizations that represent people living with disabilities, people experiencing poverty, and tenants in the province of New Brunswick, we write to request that the government of New Brunswick put an end to the Household Income Policy for social assistance recipients.
On October 6, 2021, World Cerebral Palsy Day, our organizations hosted a public talk and conversation with Kaitlyn Layden, a disability rights advocate, on her journey with the Household Income Policy and how it has derailed her life plans, including marrying and living with her partner. We would like to share what we heard at this event in the hopes that it will inform future social assistance policies.
You can watch Kaitlyn Layden’s talk here:
Shelley Petit from the New Brunswick Coalition of Persons with Disabilities asked: Can you explain the difference between how the Household Income Policy affects the lives of individuals with disabilities vs able bodied individuals on social assistance in New Brunswick?
Layden: People with disabilities do not have the same opportunities as able bodied individuals but we are categorized as the same. People with disabilities have a much higher cost of living because of medical and equipment needs not covered by our health card (e.g. wheelchairs).
The HIP discriminates against couples where one of them has a disability and the other does not. If two people have a disability and live together, they can receive income assistance, but if one of the people in the couple is able-bodied then their income is counted as the household income. That income is then supposed to cover the expenses of their partner with a disability. This income is often not enough to cover the medical needs of people with disabilities and should it? Such a policy takes away the right of people with a disability to receive an income and control their own spending. The government should not tell us who we can live with and who we can love.
Tobin Haley from the New Brunswick Coalition for Tenants Rights asked: Disabled people face high rates of housing precarity due to inaccessible housing stock and disproportionate rates of poverty. You have argued that eliminating the Household Income Policy would increase housing security for disabled social assistance recipients. Can you unpack what you mean by that?
Layden: If you are fortunate enough to get a rent subsidy, you can live together or live at a much lower rate than normal. Abandoning the HIP would allow more people to live together and thus eliminate some of the housing issues New Brunswick faces today. Right now there are more than 5,000 people on the waitlist for social housing. People with and without a disability should be able to live together and support each other.
Abram Lutes from the Common Front for Social Justice asked: The Government of New Brunswick has recently announced reforms to its social assistance program, as well as drafted a task force and advisory committee on disability issues in New Brunswick. However, there has been a notable lack of involvement from community groups, social movements, and people with disabilities themselves. What, in your opinion, would meaningful consultation and policy development look like when it comes to disability?
Layden: Allow us to be at the table and in the room. The taskforce was a good idea in theory but marginalized communities just happened to find out about it. People who are accessing social assistance programs need to be notified in advance of such consultations in order to be able to genuinely participate in policy decisions because after all we are the people these policies affect.
Aditya Rao from the Solidarité Fredericton asked: It is clear from your powerful advocacy that the Household Income Policy particularly affects people with disabilities in a way that is discriminatory and harmful. You, along with other advocates, have called for the policy to be repealed. Can you talk about how that would be beneficial not just to the disability community, but to social assistance recipients generally, and could you tie that to how struggles for economic security between disadvantaged communities are linked?
Layden: With COVID, we have seen lots of social isolation. The government should be not making it harder for people to live together and support each other. To keep benefits, a person with a disability is forced to live alone, often in isolated and unsafe conditions.
The poverty rates across New Brunswick are astronomical and we have the second highest rate of disability in the country. We need to make society more inclusive for people with disabilities. We will have a healthier economy that way. By abandoning the HIP, it would free up more time for Social Development to work on other needed reforms and have other conversations that benefit people struggling in this province.
Tracy Glynn with Reproductive Justice NB asked: Reproductive justice will exist when all people can access the healthcare they need to thrive and are empowered to decide if, when, and how to have or parent children, with dignity and support. You have publicly shared your story of how the Household Income Policy stops you and your partner from marrying in your disability awareness series with the NB Media Co-op and with other media in this province. Besides the Household Income Policy, what are other social, economic, and political barriers to reproductive justice for people with disabilities in this province?
Layden: People with disabilities wanting to have a family and on social assistance often are not able to parent their own child and must turn to Social Development for support. I think anyone who makes the decision to have a family should have that right and the government should support them instead of making it more difficult to live a life of their choosing.
Some people have to stay on social assistance because it is more economically feasible to be on social assistance than not because people need health care and home care to survive. We are not getting rich. No one wakes up and says it is my lifelong dream to access social assistance.
At our event, a number of people shared their personal stories of how the Household Income Policy has made their life difficult. They feel alone and yet we know they are not alone; that too many people across this province are stuck because provincial policies do not give them enough social supports to advance and live a life with dignity. It is by design that poverty rates in this province are so high and one of the policies keeping people in poverty is the Household Income Policy.
We also heard that the New Brunswick government needs to work in synergy with all levels of government to improve the lives of persons with disabilities. One thing that the Higgs government can do is support the fast tracking of the federal Disability Benefit. More information here: https://www.disabilitywithoutpoverty.ca/
In closing, we strongly believe that putting an end to the Household Income Policy is an imperative step towards fair social assistance policies that let people live a life of dignity, autonomy, and compassion.
Kaitlyn Layden, New Brunswick Coalition of Persons with Disabilities
Shelley Petit, New Brunswick Coalition of Persons with Disabilities
Tobin Haley, New Brunswick Coalition for Tenants Rights
Abram Lutes, Common Front for Social Justice
Aditya Rao, Solidarité Fredericton
Tracy Glynn, Reproductive Justice NB