The Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP) enables Canadians with disabilities to do something most of us take for granted, save money. Already the accumulated amount in registered plans across Canada exceeds $2 billion. By itself, this is not enough to reduce one of the biggest handicaps experienced by people with disabilities, poverty.

We need something like a pension or a guaranteed annual income which is becoming politically popular in Canada.

The RDSP sets three precedents, which will help move us in that direction.

  1. Funds in an RDSP are not subject to the asset limit test of provincial/territorial disability benefit programs
  2. Funds withdrawn from the RDSP are not clawed back
  3. People do not have to report on what their RDSP funds are used for.

Anti-poverty advocates around the world make a compelling argument that one of the most significant policy shifts in combatting poverty is to allow people to accumulate assets.

Recently the BC government took that to heart. It changed its welfare benefits program for people with disabilities. Undermined it might be a better characterization. The asset limit for people receiving disability benefits has been increased from $5,000 to $100,000. Furthermore, people can now receive cash gifts and inheritances without impacting monthly benefits and without reporting. (More information on these and other changes here.)

This is the beginning of the end of disability welfare. Hooray. Other jurisdictions are bound to follow suit and treat income support as a floor, not a ceiling. It is now practical to imagine a guaranteed annual income or pension replacing the patchwork of disability benefits systems across Canada.

We have closed most of our institutions and segregated schools in Canada. It is now time to break the welfare mentality that segregates people with disabilities into a life in poverty.

The post-RDSP agenda involves:

  • Increasing the take-up of the generous Registered Disability Savings grants and bonds. Right now only 15-20% of Canadians have signed up. The federal government should automatically enroll eligible Canadians and waive the cumbersome application process.
  • Unbundling government program dollars and making them directly available to people with disabilities so that they can choose and direct the supports and services they want.
  • Subsidizing adaptive equipment and mobility devices. This is simply basic infrastructure that people with disabilities need to work, participate and contribute.
  • Removing employment barriers and disincentives such as income clawback. If a person with a disability has taxable income as the result of a good job let the income tax system deal with it, not the welfare system.
  • Removing all the costs of policing welfare and creating the world’s first guaranteed annual income for people with disabilities.

Economic citizenship helps people with disabilities to gain control of their destiny. Ask anyone with an RDSP. Economic citizenship is liberating and exhilarating. And timely.

By Al Etmanski

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