Disabled people in BC need marriage equality

Benefits should not be eliminated just because you have a spouse

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A couple, one in a wheelchair, on the beach
PHOTO: Mikhail Nilov / Pexels

By: Hailey Miller, Staff Writer

Many disabled people in BC rely on Persons With Disabilities (PWD) benefits — monthly income assistance from the provincial government. Though some income assistance is better than nothing, these benefits are not nearly enough to sustain people with today’s cost of living. Such benefits are so minimal that many people still cannot afford daily living expenses, let alone added medical expenses of uninsured assistive devices, appointments, and medications. Moreover, if a person on PWD enters a “marriage-like” relationship with someone who does not receive these benefits, the disabled person’s monthly PWD assistance is removed. This includes serious common-law, spousal, or marital relationships that last a minimum length of 12 months.

While this only applies if the relationship becomes known to the government, and the partner makes over $18,000 a year, the province assumes a disabled individual’s expenses can be covered by their partner. This forces those who are disabled to rely on someone else’s income, or lose other financial support. This should not be the case, especially considering the outrageous expenses of today’s housing market

As of August 2023, the monthly PWD amounts are typically up to an estimate of $1,480, including the allocation of a $52 transportation supplement, and a measly $375 for rent. The remainder is designated as support expenses to cover other monthly costs. Aside from this, an excess unearned income deduction — noted on someone’s PWD account — is factored in based on how much income an individual declares per month. And, yes, filling out monthly reports is expected in order to receive designated benefits each time, which can be an exhausting process for a variety of disabilities. Disability income assistance rates are different for relationships where both individuals receive PWD, if someone or the couple has a child, or if multiple family members receive these benefits.

Evidently, these amounts are not enough to cover everyday costs, let alone medical or unexpected expenses. Today, the average person spends between $2,000$3,000 per month on rent in the Lower Mainland. Pair that with about $360 in groceries and your monthly expenses are already through the roof. 

It’s difficult enough to manage as an individual without a disability in today’s market. For those of us with disabilities who rely on monthly income assistance just to get by, it’s disheartening to know that our benefits are essentially eliminated if and when we enter a relationship that becomes known to the government. This leaves minimal options and a lack of income security for those of us on PWD who want to save for a house or car, start a family, factor in appointment costs, and personal expenses such as travel and going out.

The elimination of these benefits leads to unfortunate options for a couple: not declaring their relationship and risking lying to the government, living in the same household but pretending to be roommates so it doesn’t seem like they’re together, or not getting married to preserve these benefits. The lack of marriage equality in BC for disabled people forces a choice between receiving income assistance or pursuing a relationship. In other words, we must choose between love and survival among modern-day inflation. 

It is completely unacceptable to remove benefits that are awfully minimal to begin with. Removing these benefits restricts disabled peoples’ independence and increases the risk of potentially entering or getting stuck in abusive relationships out of necessity for financial assistance. 

To safely and securely manage financially within a relationship or cohabitation between an interabled couple, marriage equality for disabled people must be implemented for equity, financial security, and basic human rights. PWD should allow people with disabilities to enjoy relationships with their partner without falling into debt or poverty, and perhaps even expand the minimal benefits they offer. PWD support should allow individuals to live their life independently, without relying on their relationships for financial care.

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