We all dream of a good life. People who love us, a sense of belonging, a home to call our own, enough money to make ends meet and have some fun, a sense of purpose in our lives. The question, ‘what does a good life look like for my son or daughter with a disability’ is key in defining the now and planning for the future.
In BC, families of people with disabilities have been architects and visionaries in putting the good life into action:
- Trusts provide a way for families to secure an asset for their son or daughter, to compliment disability benefits
- Representation agreements are a model of decision making where trust and relationship is recognized as core to making decisions
- Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP) encourages anyone to contribute, puts the control of the account into the hands of people with disabilities and their families and is in addition to BC Disability Assistance payments
- Networks of care invite community members into friendships with individuals with disabilities based on shared interests
- Innovation around housing, belonging and employment continue to be displayed in communities around the province
However, families of people with disabilities are nervous. The demographic profile of the future indicates a shrinking tax base, a growing elderly population and increased health care costs. The message for years has been that the future is one with less funding, less services and more uncertainty. Families are unsure of how to prepare for that future.
And, unfortunately, in their efforts to navigate and plan for an uncertain future, many families find themselves working at cross purposes or outside of the supports and services government provides.
At PLAN, we hear stories regularly about how families are helping their loved one meet their everyday needs: paying rent, giving gift cards and presents, taking them for dinner, going on holiday—ways that parents everywhere support their children. However, parents are worried that their son or daughter’s core disability assistance will be jeopardized by a system that views this as ‘unearned income’ and deducts dollar for dollar from future disability assistance payments. The lack of flexibility and rigidity of rules around BC Disability Assistance payments restricts both family and community’s desire to secure a good life and future for (adult) children with disabilities.
We think a question needs to be answered: how can the efforts of families, community and government join to realize the full contributions and citizenship of people with disabilities?
By changing a few key policies, family and community resources can unite with the government’s to shift away from welfare towards wealth. Supporting people with disabilities is not the job of government alone, but belongs in partnership between individuals, families, community, employers and government… the abundance exists.
PLAN families have repeatedly identified the following policy changes as key to helping their sons and daughters build financial security, both now and into the future:
- Exempting family contributions from BC Disability Assistance eligibility would openly acknowledge and encourage the ways that families care for and support their loved ones with disabilities
- Harmonizing trusts with the RDSP would recognize the immediate financial needs of those under the age of 60
- Exempting the RDSP across all disability supports (housing, student loans, home care, child care and long-term care) provides security in future planning and ensures that the RDSP provides a net benefit
- Promoting financial literacy education and support of families and individuals with disabilities strengthens financial security with financial knowledge and a shift in thinking towards abundance
Each of the recommendations above point towards a significant shift away from a welfare model based on a system of ‘last resort’. Instead, we envision a British Columbia where people with disabilities have the opportunity to build financial security, live a good life and receive assistance from their families, community and government to do so.
Over the next couple of weeks, we will post each recommendation for your thoughts and feedback. Feel free to post your comments for discussion.