The United Nations celebrates each year the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is asking governments and civil society to highlight this very important event by organizing in their country, province or town, an event.
Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
Aurea Cormier, a long-time social activist and secretary of the New Brunswick Common Front for Social Justice, believes that the New Brunswick government is not doing enough to adhere to the principles of the Declaration:
“The principles of equality and non-discrimination are at the heart of human rights. Promoting human rights includes addressing and finding solutions for deep-rooted forms of discrimination that affect the most vulnerable people in society, including people with disabilities and those living below the poverty line. It is urgent that poverty reduction gets top attention by the New Brunswick government. The media often focuses on homelessness. Unfortunately, people living on the street are only the tip of the iceberg. Much less visible are minimum wage workers and most social assistance recipients who have difficulty making it to the end of the month. In New Brunswick, there is an unacceptable poverty level among social assistance recipients, particularly single individuals, single parents, and children living in poor households. Barriers to obtaining benefits often comes with stigmatizing treatment, surveillance, and behavioural conditions from government.”
The November 2020 Maytree report entitled Welfare in Canada stated that in New Brunswick, the income for single employable social assistance recipients only allowed them to fulfill 33 per cent of their basic needs. The income inadequacy was 46 per cent for a single disabled individual, 67 per cent for a single parent with one child and 63 per cent for a couple with two children.
“Social Assistance rates in the province are woefully inadequate. How can a single employable New Brunswicker currently receiving $571 per month pay for an apartment, purchase food and all other necessities and be expected to survive? The same can be said for a person certified with a disability who only receives $705 per month,” says Randy Hatfield, Executive Director of the Saint John Human Development Council.
Danny Soucy, Community Planning Advisor with the New Brunswick Association of Community Living, is part of the New Brunswick Disability Executives’ Network that sent a report to Minister of Social Development last July. The organization wants the provincial government to implement eight concrete measures that they say would make a real difference in the lives of thousands of citizens living with a disability in this province and would adhere to Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
According to Soucy, “One of the short-term recommendations that needs to be addressed right away is to modify the eligibility criteria so that it be fair, transparent, reflect a modern social definition of disability, and that supports a right to appeal eligibility decisions. On the medium-term, the province needs to create a new model and approach for clients with a disability which provides transition planning and support for employment and community involved. On the long term, the province needs to remove persons with a disability from the regular categories (Extended Benefits and Long-Term Needs) and policies under Social Assistance to create an entirely separate Income Program for People with Disabilities.”
Aurea Cormier believes that human rights are better followed when a society has an informed citizenry: “One of the keys to social change is information, so that is why the Common Front for Social Justice is hosting a webinar, Reducing inequalities, advancing human rights on December 10 to remind the public that certain human rights of New Brunswickers are far from being the guaranteed. You can register on the Facebook page of the Common Front.”
Jean-Claude Basque is a long-time anti-poverty activist and member of the Editorial Board of the NB Media Co-op.
Danny Soucy, New Brunswick Association for Community Living