A BIG Difference Possible in the Lives of People with Disabilities

A basic income guarantee (BIG) would transform the current social welfare system and policies to a system based on human rights and basic needs. Why is basic income especially important for people with disabilities?

A basic income guarantee would be a move away from determining a person’s value based on their work. It would eliminate the discriminatory attitude that people with disabilities are “takers”, not contributors, and challenge the harmful idea that wealth is for the blessed.

Disability and poverty are interlocking. Today, 70% of people born with a moderate to severe disability will live their whole lives in poverty. The current social assistance system designed to support impoverished people is not working, and it is discriminatory in its effects. The statistics are astonishing: two-thirds of households in which Social Assistance is the main source of income are headed by people with disabilities, and almost three-fifths of persons with disabilities are unemployed or under-employed. The vast majority of Human Rights challenges on PEI are related to disability and work.

When Islanders with disabilities talk about their experience, they say that many people with disabilities don’t have enough to live on. Healthy food isn’t affordable for people. Isolation is also something many people with disabilities face and housing is a huge issue. Too many people are living in unhealthy places, and this is making people sick. A basic income guarantee would allow people to live in healthier, safer places. 

People with disabilities don’t have equal access to jobs. Many are unemployed or underemployed. When people with disabilities do get jobs, they often have to be more qualified than other job-seekers in order to be hired. In the workforce, people with disabilities are often paid very little. Social Assistance rules claw back earnings above $75.00 per month, and this is unfair. People with disabilities, especially people with intellectual challenges, are sometimes expected to work for free.

A basic income guarantee would reduce discrimination against people with disabilities. If every Islander received a basic income guarantee, it would be a step towards true equality among people with different abilities. A basic income guarantee recognizes what people contribute to society just by being human – as people who are valuable for themselves, valuable for their relationships and connections, valuable whether their contribution looks like a traditional job or not, valuable whether what they do is paid or unpaid in the workforce.

A basic income guarantee designed to meet people’s real day-to-day needs would, of course, need to recognize that the basic needs of a person with a disability may be different from others’ basic needs. A basic income guarantee could replace social assistance, for instance, but would not replace disability supports. For example, for some people with mobility issues, a wheelchair is a basic need. Disability supports are basic needs, not “extras”. 

A basic income guarantee would promote inclusion, about including people better in society, and it is about equality and being treated fairly. A basic income guarantee could reduce isolation (make it more possible to use transit for instance) and make it easier to have a social life – which is good for individuals’ mental health and good for all of society.

A basic income guarantee would celebrate all of our uniqueness, instead of pressuring people with different abilities to be “normal”. By valuing people as people, rather than just as earners, a basic income guarantee would help normalize differences.

Marcia Carroll represents the PEI Council of People with Disabilities and Leo Garland represents PEI People First on the PEI Working Group for a Livable Income.


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