CW: Poverty & Psychiatric Disabilities
Ron Kitchen, of Barrie, Ont., recalls a time when disability benefits were sufficient to get by. However, that has changed in recent years as rents have risen, significantly surpassing the nearly $1,700 per month Kitchen receives from the Ontario Disability Support Program. He is unable to work due to a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a psychiatric disability characterized by widespread affective instability, self-image issues, impulsivity, severe suicidality, and unstable interpersonal connections.
He now skips meals during the day so he can afford food for his children. He is behind on his monthly rent, which is approximately $1,666 USD, or $2,200 CAD. He also can’t find work that would accommodate his mental health disability.
Kitchen says despite public perception, all of the financial assistance he receives is not enough. Benefits include a water rebate and the Canada Child Benefit, in addition to his disability payment. Even when combined it is not enough to deal with soaring rents, let alone the rising cost of living.
Kitchen is not alone. According to the most recent federal data, one in every five Canadians aged 15 and up has at least one disability , with nearly 17% of all people living with a disability experiencing poverty. To make matters worse, people with disabilities account for 30% of Canadians living in deep poverty, earning less than 75% of Canada’s statutory poverty level.
According to Douglas Kwan, director of advocacy and legal services at the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, people with disabilities accounted for nearly 60% of the roughly 10,000 tenants serviced by the center last year. Many of them went to the province’s Landlord and Tenant Board because they couldn’t afford rent, he said.
To address the issue, he believes that governments should commit to increasing social assistance rates across the board, fund and construct more transitional, inexpensive, and accessible housing units, and establish rent and vacancy regulations.
However, Tim Aubry, co-chair of the Canadian Housing First Network, which assists communities throughout Canada in implementing programs focused at housing people experiencing homelessness, believes that disability assistance, such as income supplements, are only one part of the answer.
People on disability benefits in Canada normally receive roughly 40% of the statutory poverty line assessed for the community in which they live.The lack of annual increases to payments in accordance with inflation, as well as the rise in the cost of living, have virtually kept people with disabilities imprisoned in poverty.
While the federal Liberal government has passed legislation for a new Canada-wide disability benefit, it is unclear how much people will receive — or whether it will even be implemented if another party forms the government, according to Rabia Khedr, Director of Disability Without Poverty.
Disabled people should not have to worry about how they will pay for their meals or life-saving medication. This shouldn’t be a concern for anyone. Everyone deserves to be able to pay all of their basic expenses. Benefits need to provide a livable income for everyone.
Balintec, Vanessa. “Financial Support to Keep People with Disabilities Housed Falls Short of What’s Needed: Advocates.” CBCnews, 23 July 2023, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/housing-people-disabilities-income-supports-1.6914076.
Kulacaoglu, Filiz, and Samet Kose. “Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD): In the Midst of Vulnerability, Chaos, and Awe.” Brain Sciences, vol. 8, no. 11, Nov. 2018, p. 201. Crossref, https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci8110201.