Time to look at income security for low income older adults with disabilities

One of the long term goals I have for Open Policy is to cover all aspects of income security for all age groups for low income people with and without disabilities. This year, Open Policy managed to add a critical piece with the publication of Every Ninth Child in Ontario: A Cost-Benefit Analysis for Investing in the Care of Special Needs Children and Youth in Ontario with my colleagues Alexa Briggs, Celia Lee, Brendon Pooran and Rene Doucet.

Children and youth with disabilities and their income security needs are extremely important and I hope there will be more contributions from my colleagues and I on this front in the future.

The following is a chart that I have had in my head for years but I never sat down and created it ‘on paper’ until now. It shows that for each part of the life course, Open Policy (my colleagues and I) have produced a paper or report on each age group subdivided into special reports on those with disabilities and those without disabilities. The missing piece is older adults (65+) who have disabilities.

Open Policy Income Security Papers and Reports (examples)
Age Group People without Disabilities People with Disabilities
Children Transitions Revisited (Caledon, 2004) Every Ninth Child in Ontario (with permission of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth, 2015)
Youth Why is it so tough to get ahead? (Metcalf, 2007) Every Ninth Child in Ontario
Children in Care Not So Easy to Navigate (Laidlaw, 2010)
Youth in Care 25 is the new 21 (Provincial Advocate, 2012) Every ninth child in Ontario
Working Age Adults Working poor reports (Metcalf, 2011 and 2015)
The Income Security System Under Our Nose (Metcalf, 2008)
Trading Places (Mowat Centre, 2011)
Navigating the Maze (CWGHR- 2008)
Zero Dollar Linda (Metcalf, 2010)
The Welfareization of Disability (Metcalf, 2013)
Older Adults Retiring on a Low Income (Donner at al., 2012) To come!


Income security for older adults with disabilities is an interesting area of concern as our income programs for aged persons do not distinguish between persons with disabilities and those without. For every other age group, there are special income programs for people with disabilities. For children, we have Assistance for Children with Severe Disabilities (ACSD).  And for working age adults, we have at least eight income related programs in Ontario (ODSP, WSIB, CPP-D, WITB-D, RDSP, EI sickness, Veterans programs, and workplace programs).

Curiously, when it comes to seniors, we make the collective assumption that retirement income programs such as OAS, GIS, GAINS-A, CPP, along with savings and work are sufficient to fully meet the needs of low income aged people with disabilities.

But the reality is that our income security system in Canada is not meeting the needs of older adults with disabilities.

To be sure, there are other service and income programs that serve older adults with disabilities. In Ontario, we have the Trillium drug program for seniors and the Assistive Devices Program (ADP) that helps defray the cost of hearing aids, wheelchairs and other disability related goods. There are hundreds of local outreach programs for seniors and a wide network of residential care homes, nursing homes, chronic care and active treatment hospitals many of which serve seniors and near seniors exclusively.

But isn’t it odd that we would have at least 8 income security systems for non-aged adults but none for those who have turned 65? It raises many important questions but the two that are top of mind for me relate to special needs and pensions.

When it comes to special needs, I have spent the last 12 years and over 140 (almost) monthly meeting adjudicating special funds to needy Ontario veterans and their dependants through the Soldiers Aid Commission. Along with my fellow commissioners, we see an endless parade of requests to fund dentures, hearing aids, glasses, leaky roofs, wheelchairs and various types of disability related supplies. Very few of these seniors would be able to afford these things if they could not get them funded.

But no one pays for them except these special funds and ADP. The alternative is often high cost health and institutional care so no one should ask ‘where the money will come from?’ since the cost of not attending to these needs is far higher.

Turning to pensions, I was intrigued by the discussions surrounding the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan (ORPP). For those opposed to it, the arguments made often centre on the fact that low income seniors often receive more money in retirement than they do as working age adults. Therefore they do not need to save as their income is already replaced and the last thing low income non-aged adults need is another call (in the form of pension contributions) upon their meagre resources in their working years.

All well and good that low income people don’t need to save or contribute ‘from a pension perspective’. But if you look through the lens of ‘need or expense’, seniors with disabilities have much higher needs in their senior years than in their working years. And just when their needs (and costs) are intensifying, our income security system decides that seniors with special needs (and that’s a lot of them) do not need any additional income security.

So perhaps the idea of an ORPP from the perspective of need is a pretty good idea even if it does not pass muster through a ‘pension lens’.

I am just getting warmed up now. I have already blogged[1] about marginal effective tax rates for low income seniors who work[2] (and a lot more are working – more about that in future posts) and I have discussed the unfair treatment of honoraria[3] for low income seniors under the GIS.

All of the unfair and outdated policies that affect low income seniors are only magnified for those who have disabilities.

On a personal note, I turned 65 in August so I am now a member of the group I will be writing about. And although all my aches and pains do not amount to a set of disabilities, the day when they do is no longer inconceivable to me. I can see it in Technicolor.

So stay tuned and let’s colour in the final box that has been left unattended: income security benefits for seniors with disabilities and see if we can make some progress.

John Stapleton, December 27, 2015

[1] https://openpolicyontario.com/no-piece-of-cake-linda-chamberlain-applies-for-the-guaranteed-income-supplement-gis/

[2] https://openpolicyontario.com/the-plight-of-low-income-hardworking-seniors/

[3] http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2015/03/29/should-poor-seniors-have-to-pay-to-volunteer-porter.html