If you had a disability, would you be able to work?
It’s a tough question, and you might say that it depends on the severity of the disability. That’s certainly a factor, but what about if you were well enough to work – part time, full time or something in-between – but only if you had supports like health benefits or affordable child care that make work a real possibility?
A lack of support is a problem that many people on social assistance face in Ontario, and I’ve previously blogged about whether the role of social assistance should be to help you to scrape by or to get a good job.
Inadequate supports are a challenge for all people on social assistance, but most particularly for people with episodic disabilities. Episodic disabilities are complex chronic conditions characterized by fluctuating and often unpredictable periods, or degrees and severity, of wellness and illness, for example, mental illness, HIV, or arthritis. It is not possible to predict from week-to-week when periods of illness will occur.
This means that knowing when you’re going to be well enough to work is impossible – one day you may feel fine and the next day you may be unwell. People with episodic disabilities need workplace flexibility and a social assistance system that provides supports when they’re needed.
The reality, however, is that you’re either on social assistance or you’re not – there is very limited flexibility to respond to fluctuating needs.
This is a challenge that the Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario needs to address when it reports back to the government later this year. In our submission, we argued that benefits need to be flexible and portable so that people can move in and out of employment and training as they are able. The system also needs to streamline transitions on and off social assistance so that applying and being accepted into the system is not overly onerous.
Addressing the needs of people with disabilities is not just a challenge for the social assistance system, but for all of government and for employers. People with disabilities need work that is secure, offers decent health benefits, and is flexible. Government and employers need to work together to create more of these kinds of jobs and to create pathways that help people with disabilities to not only enter the workforce, but also to rise up the career ladder.
The link between income and health is well-established. To support good health for people with disabilities, we need to create the right environment where people can move into good jobs that support their continuum of participation. We cannot expect that one-size-fits-all jobs – or one-size-fits-all disability supports – will be suitable for everyone.