BC Welfare and Disability Rates Threaten Residents’ Health

The BC provincial budget tabled on February 16, 2016 marked the first time in nine years that there was any increase to the disability benefits of people with disabilities (PWD). Those on welfare have not received an increase since 2007. Currently, a single person on disability is expected to live on $931 a month; someone on welfare has to get by on $610 a month. These are among the lowest rates in the country, in one of our most expensive provinces. The Market Basket Measure*, which acts as a common measure of poverty, for Vancouver in 2011 (the most recent data available) was a little over $1600 for a single-person family.[1] By comparison, a disabled person in Alberta gets over $1500 a month in disability benefits.

The February increase did little to lift those living on a disability benefit out of poverty.

  • The 35,000 PWD who currently access a subsidized annual bus pass see an increase of only $25 per month. The announced $77 per month increase is offset by an increase in the cost of transportation, from $45 a year to $669 a year.
  • The 20,000 people who currently access the Special Transportation subsidy see an increase of $11 a month.
  • Only the 45,000 who received no subsidy previously see the full $77/month increase.[2]

Even at the highest rate, PWD are expected to live on less than $1000 a month – approximately 40% below the poverty line for Vancouver, in 2011 dollars. Those on welfare receive no bus subsidy, so are living at about 60% below the poverty line. Taking the recent bus pass clawback into account, PWD have received an increase of 2.8% since 2007, while rents have gone up 12% and food 23% in that period.[3]

Health Impact of Low Income

Income and social status are consistently recognized as the most important of the determinants of health.[4] [5] [6] Poor people have poorer health and increased risk of premature death. 3 8 Putting this into hard figures, men living in the highest-income neighbourhoods in Canada can expect to live almost 5 years (4.7) longer than men in the lowest-income neighbourhoods.[7] The gap for women is 2.3 years. Those most vulnerable to living in poverty are persons living with disabilities, single mothers, Aboriginal Peoples, unattached individuals under the age of 65 and recent immigrants.

Tampering with access to transportation can also result in significant health issues, by increasing the risk of social isolation, and adding barriers to seeking health care and community services, and training and employment.

People with disabilities and those on welfare struggle with impossible financial pressure, in addition to dealing with health issues. They are falling behind and desperately need a rate increase that reflects the cost of living in BC.

* The MBM represents the cost of a nutritious diet, clothing and footwear, shelter, transportation, and other necessary goods and services (such as personal care items or household supplies), as measured by Statistics Canada.

Join the Call to Raise the Rates

The Public Health Association of British Columbia has urged the government to raise the disability benefits provided to people with disabilities (PWD) rate to $1200 per month by October 1, 2016 to reflect the cost of living, and to reinstate the annual bus pass fee for $45.

To add your voice to this call, please see the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition’s ReThink Poverty campaign, at http://bcpovertyreduction.ca/campaigns/rethinkpoverty/.

Diana Daghofer is a member of the board of directors of PHABC and an independent consultant living in Rossland, BC.


[1] Statistics Canada (2013). Market Basket Measure thresholds (2011-base) for Vancouver.

[2] Government of BC (2016). FACT SHEET: Monthly rate increase for people on Disability Assistance. Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation (February 15, 2016)

[3] Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (2016). Working for a Living Wage 2015. CCPA.

[4] Public Health Agency of Canada, What Is the Population Health Approach?, last updated February 7, 2012. [Internet] cited November 28, 2014, from http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/ph-sp/approach-approche/index-eng.php

[5] Lemstra M, Neudorf C, Opondo J, (2008) Health disparity in Saskatoon: analysis to intervention. Saskatoon: Saskatoon Health Region. Cited November 28, 2014 from: http://www.caledoninst.org/Special%20Projects/CG-COP/Docs/HealthDisparityRept-complete.pdf

[6] Mikkonen, J., & Raphael, D. (2010). Social Determinants of Health: The Canadian Facts. Toronto: York University School of Health Policy and Management. Cited November 28, 2014, from: http://www.thecanadianfacts.org/

[7] Greenberg L, Normandin C. Health at a Glance: Disparities in life expectancy at birth, Statistics Canada. [Internet] cited November 28, 2014 from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-624-x/2011001/article/11427-eng.htm#a6