September was British Columbia’s Disability Employment Month and an opportunity to highlight the benefits of employing people of all abilities. As the New Democrat spokesperson for social development, I was pleased to see the B.C. Liberal minister for social development raising awareness about employing people with disabilities. Inclusion in the workplace not only benefits employees with disabilities, it benefits the entire business and has a positive effect on our communities and local economies. Raising awareness is work that needs to take place.
Yet, it should not take place while also stripping people with disabilities of their employment rights. But that is precisely what the B.C. Liberals are doing. Every month, they claw back maternity and parental leave benefits from people with disabilities who receive income supports.
Nearly 200,000 people receive disability; 16 per cent of them are able to work and keep a maximum of $800 to $1,000 in wages per month depending on family size. However, every year, 150 people receiving disability and income assistance need to take time off work, as is their right, to deliver and care for a newborn.
While working, they paid their mandatory employment insurance premiums and have the right to collect their EI benefits for their maternity and parental leave. When they do so, the Liberal government takes every dollar of it away. Without their wages or EI benefits, families impacted by this government policy are forced to live on less than $200 per month after rent.
Imagine having a newborn and having only $200 to pay for all the new expenses plus your own health supports for your disability. What do you choose? Your baby needs you to be healthy, but you can’t be healthy if you want to feed, clothe and diaper your child. Then there are transportation, hydro and telephone. What if your baby needs to go to the doctor? How do you pay to get there?
I’ve spoken to families from across the province, including here in the Kootenays, who went from barely making ends meet to racking up debt and going hungry while caring for a newborn. Their local food banks, family and friends do what they can to help, but parents still live in poverty with their children. And the external help doesn’t change the fact that they are being denied their rights by their government.
Just like any other parents, parents with disabilities need their benefits to pay rent and new expenses for their new baby. Not only is it unacceptable to be ignoring the rights of people with disabilities, but it is intolerable for the B.C. Liberals to put children in poverty from day one.
Promoting the benefits of employing people with disabilities has to be done in conjunction with respecting their rights, and it has to be done with recognizing that their children do not deserve to live in poverty. Christy Clark and her Liberals need to do more than talk.
We can do better. Help people with disabilities realize their rights by signing the petition to end the maternity leave clawback at www.michellemungall.ca. Together, we can make sure that next year’s disability employment month includes jobs and rights.
Michelle Mungall is the member of the legislative assembly for the Nelson-Creston provincial riding, and is the Opposition critic for social development.