Canadians with Disabilities Face an Uncertain Financial Future 

The income gap in Canada is widening, especially for vulnerable groups such as racialized minorities and people with disabilities. Debates have been ongoing in provinces like Ontario and Alberta to cut social supports which will only increase poverty amidst a prolonged pandemic and global recession.

Facts and Figures

According to Statistics Canada, 22 percent or 6.2 million people aged 15 or over have physical or mental impairments. Overall, 20 percent of men and 24 percent of women have disability, the most common being mental health, mobility, flexibility, and pain. Other types include memory, learning, dexterity, hearing, and seeing. Only 55 percent of Canadians with impairments are employed compared to 80 percent without disabilities. The likelihood to be employed depends on severity. Figures show that 69 percent of people with severe disabilities are unemployed compared to 24 percent for those with mild disabilities. Nearly 1/3 or 28 percent of individuals with severe impairments are living in poverty, and women are more affected than men. Persons with higher levels of education such as university or college are more likely to be employed. Nearly 84 percent of men and 79.1 percent of women with a university degree are employed. Canadians who are living alone are most likely to be living in poverty, particularly persons with severe disability (61.4 percent).

Why Canadians with Impairments Face an Uncertain Financial Future?

According to a report prepared for the Public Policy Forum, people with disabilities are more likely to hold more unstable and low-skilled jobs that are disappearing due to increasing automation. Another report by the Entrepreneurship at Toronto’s Ryerson University and the Brookfield Institute for Innovation predicts that 42 percent of jobs in Canada are at risk of disappearing in the face of automation. With technological developments and the increasing adoption of advanced robotics and artificial intelligence, non-routine and cognitive jobs are also at risk of being replaced by computers and smart technologies. Occupations that are considered high risk include transport truck driver, cashier, food counter attendant, administrative assistant, and retail salesperson. Jobs that are less likely to be affected earn more and require higher skills and levels of education. These are mostly management positions and jobs in math, engineering, technology, and science. Among the lowest-risk occupations are early childhood educator, registered nurse, and wholesale and retail trade manager. Nationwide, Prince Edward Island has the highest share of at-risk jobs (45 percent) while Ontario has the lowest (41.1 percent).

The Impact of the Global Pandemic

Researchers at the University of Alberta and the University of Toronto conducted a nationwide survey which shows that Canadians with disabilities are not only worried about getting infected but are also concerned about their financial situation. Many people with health issues and impairments did not qualify for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit and were forced to look for other ways to make ends meet. About 50 percent of people with disabilities say they find it increasingly difficult to pay off debt while 40 percent share they have added to their card debt. Read more here. More than 30 percent of survey participants also say they find it increasingly hard to pay utility bills, mortgage, and rent due to the ongoing pandemic. More than 50 percent of respondents are also struggling to meet basic necessities such as groceries.

What Can Be Done

According to the Federal Accessibility Legislation Alliance, the Canadian government should provide non-prescriptive assistance to persons with impairments which they can use for therapy, shelter, food, and personal support and home care services. It is also important to strengthen the capacity of civil society groups and organizations to support disabled Canadians who are self-isolating. Service delivery can be made more inclusive through collaboration between the federal government, the private sectors, and territorial and provincial partners.