The NB Common Front for Social Justice and the NB Coalition of Persons with Disabilities held a virtual press conference on Monday, calling on the government to reform social assistance and to increase social assistance rates.
In 2021, a “single person considered employable” received just $7,499 annually, according to a statement from the group. A single person with a disability received about $10,300 per year. A single parent with one child received about $21,600.
Rates in New Brunswick were lower than other Atlantic provinces in practically every category.
A 112 per cent increase would be required just to bring a single person with a disability above the poverty line, according to figures from the social justice groups citing Statistics Canada.
“We need to increase the rates to a livable amount,” said Shelley Petit, chairman of the NB Coalition of Persons with Disabilities, in an interview with the NB Media Co-op.
Check out the interview here:
Petit said she is not optimistic that the current government will come on board.
In an email statement to the NB Media Co-op, the Department of Social Development said that “the provincial government announced the indexation of all social assistance rates to inflation in 2021. This means that on April 1 of each year, social assistance rates will increase by the percentage change in the New Brunswick Consumer Price Index.”
“Over the past few years, the government has been focused on social assistance reform. These changes have helped New Brunswickers keep more income and has brought changes like an increase to the wage exemption of up to $500, the elimination of shelter deductions for all households, and increased income exemptions.”
The spokesperson also said that “there is a budget process for 2023-24 is underway where the government may consider other funding initiatives.”
Demands include updated definition of disability
The two social justice groups said the social definition of disability needs to be updated and that anyone should be able to appeal if the application is denied.
The groups also want the abolition of the Household Income Policy – a policy that determines who can qualify for receiving social assistance, with two married people or partners in common law unable to receive social assistance at the same time – which they called “unjustifiable and discriminatory.”
“With New Brunswick in a housing affordability and supply crisis, with historic levels of inflation, why deprive persons of the ability to live together to share expenses, thereby reducing the number of housing units for those in need?” asked Robert MacKay, Community Co-chair of the Common Front, in an email to the NB Media Co-op.
“This is an inhumane, government-imposed social isolation strategy that harms people.”
The demands also include making government websites more friendly to persons with low vision, by revamping the colours and increasing the size of fonts.
The groups also say that the province should provide American Sign Language or Quebec Sign Language services and improve home-care.
Arun Budhathoki is a video-journalist with the NB Media Co-op. This project has been made possible in part by the Government of Canada, administered by the Canadian Association of Community Television Stations and Users (CACTUS).