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Advocacy & Issues 11/10/2022

This spring, the federal government will release the 2023 budget. It’s vital for the federal government to act quickly to help Canadians afford basic needs like good food amid skyrocketing inflation, rising food prices, a housing crisis and precarious working conditions.

Here is our submission to the federal government.

The Problem

Millions of Canadians cannot afford to buy nourishing, nutritious food. 

Through Community Food Centres Canada’s presence in more than 175 neighbourhoods, representing one-third of federal ridings, we are uniquely positioned to see and act on how food insecurity impacts low-income communities. 

While many groups experience poverty, we are seeing a significant and growing number of working-age single adults in deep poverty. Many working-age single adults are dealing with low wages, precarious work, woefully low social assistance rates, an inadequate Employment Insurance system and increasing cost of living. We also know that poverty is experienced disproportionately by people living with disabilities and among Black, Indigenous and racialized people.

Our Recommendations

In 2019, the Poverty Reduction Act was passed, committing Canada to reduce poverty
from 2015 levels by 50 per cent by the year 2030. Given the depth of the problem, there is simply no way to meet the government’s legislated Poverty Reduction targets unless income-support measures are extended to single adults between the ages of 18 to 64, including those with disabilities.

In our 2023 Pre-Budget Submission, we are calling on the federal government to: 

  • Adopt a Canada Working-Age Supplement;
  • Commit to funding a Canada Disability Benefit in 2023;
  • Invest in an improved and expanded Employment Insurance program; and
  • Ensure equitable access to federal benefits. 

Recommendation 1: Adopt a Canada Working-Age Supplement

The federal government should adopt a Canada Working-Age Supplement to support more than 3.1 million unattached, working-age people experiencing poverty.

To better understand the challenges that working-age single adults were facing, we held focus groups in communities across Canada, including the Far North, with First Nations, in cities and in rural areas. The majority of people we talked with were between 18 and 64 years old, living on their own or with roommates, and trying to survive on provincial/territorial social assistance or disability programs, or working in low-wage, precarious jobs — or sometimes doing both.

Based on the challenges we heard, we partnered with the Maytree Foundation to explore policy options. Together, we are calling for the current Canada Worker Benefit (CWB) to be enhanced and transformed into a new Canada Working-Age Supplement (CWAS) available to people living in deep poverty, regardless of their income status.

We are recommending that the federal government:

  • Transform the Canada Workers Benefit into a Canada Working-Age Supplement (CWAS) with a benefit of $3,000 and an employment incentive of $1,000;
  • Make it accessible to all working-age adults aged 18-64 whether or not they earn employment income;
  • Provide the maximum disability supplement amount to people with disability incomes below $1,150;
  • Index it to inflation; and
  • Ensure it can be stacked onto existing provincial/territorial programs and not result in any program clawbacks.

Recommendation 2: Commit to funding a Canada Disability Benefit in 2023

The federal government should commit to funding a Canada Disability Benefit in 2023 that is sufficient to lift people living with disabilities out of poverty.

In Canada, there are 2.7 million people who live with a severe or very severe disability. They are more likely to be unemployed and the majority rely on provincial disability programs that do not meet basic needs and/or the additional costs associated with their disabilities1. Thirty per cent of people with a disability live below the low-income measure. Additionally, half of Canadians who experience food insecurity live with a disability2

This is why we are joining Disability Without Poverty’s call for a new monthly Canada Disability Benefit (CDB) to be funded in Budget 2023. Canadians living with disabilities cannot wait any longer.

The new Canada Disability Benefit should:

  • Raise the income of Canadians with disabilities above the poverty line;
  • Ensure that everyone currently receiving disability benefits automatically receive the CDB;
  • Limit provincial/territorial clawbacks: maintain existing health benefits, transportation allowances, adaptive equipment, employment supports and other in-kind benefits; and
  • Be indexed to the disability cost-of-living in all regions across Canada

Recommendation 3: Invest in an improved and expanded Employment Insurance program

The federal government should invest in an improved Employment Insurance (EI) program to increase accessibility and adequacy for all workers.

Like other social assistance programs, EI was first designed in the 1940s when the labour market was very different. Over the years, it has faced numerous cuts and redesigns, creating barriers for many. Today, most low-wage earners are ineligible due to the part-time nature of their work and must rely on grossly inadequate provincial/territorial assistance programs.

Inadequate benefits contribute to the vicious cycle of poverty, forcing people to take the first available job to make ends meet. More generous benefits allow workers to improve their skills and find more meaningful, suitable and well-paying jobs.

As the federal government moves forward in enhancing the EI program, Budget 2023
should fund it to improve eligibility and make the following improvements:

  • Reduce qualifying hours from 420 to 300;
  • Ensure access for all workers, including the self-employed, gig workers and migrant workers;
  • Ensure people who are working numerous jobs can access EI if they lose one;
  • Allow access to EI for workers who voluntarily leave low-paying, precarious work in order to seek better employment; and
  • Increase benefit rates to 75 per cent, and 85 per cent for low-wage workers3.

Recommendation 4: Ensure equitable access to federal benefits

The federal government needs to ensure equitable access to all federal programs. 

Even when people learn about tax-based benefits, many still face barriers to proving their eligibility or completing complex forms. Efforts need to be made to reach out through trusted channels, in multiple languages, and in a variety of forums. 

While the federal government has made improvements through the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to provide additional community-based support, more is needed. Indigenous Peoples, Black and racialized communities and those living with disabilities need barrier-free access to programs that can help to alleviate the disproportionate levels of poverty they experience. 

To ensure equitable access to federal benefits, we call on the federal government to: 

  • Consult with and provide funding to Indigenous-led, Black-led and disability-led organizations who can develop communication materials and provide culturally appropriate/barrier-free support to help individuals access federal benefits; and
  • Apply a Race Equity Impact Assessment (REIA) to all poverty-related policies and interventions in order to ensure they work equitably and reach populations at highest risk of poverty and food insecurity.

1. Morris, S., Fawcett, G., Brisebois, L. and Hughes, J, (2018). A demographic, employment and income
profile of Canadians with disabilities aged 15 years and over, 2017. Canadian Survey on Disability Reports. Retrieved from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/89-654-x/89-654-x2018002-eng.htm.

2. Statistics Canada, Centre for Income and Socioeconomic Well-being Statistics, Canadian Income Survey. Table C1010445. August 12, 2022. Reproduced and distributed on an "as is" basis with the permission of Statistics Canada.

3. Ritchie, L., Yalnizyan, A., Gellatly, M., Murphy, C. and Cole, N. (2020). Protecting Workers and the Economy: Principles for a New Employment Insurance System. Atkinson Foundation. Retrieved from https://atkinsonfoundation.ca/atkinson-fellows/posts/protecting-workers-and-the-economy/.

 
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