From December 3rd to March 11th, 2014, the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation lead a momentous, province-wide consultation on the issues British Columbians with disabilities are facing today. More than 25,000 participated in the process by sharing their thoughts, opinions and recommendations on improving services to people with disabilities.
PLAN families contributed throughout, including posting comments on the ministry website and by email, attending regional in-person consultation meetings and co-organizing a stakeholder conversation on how we can ensure the Registered Disability Savings Plan is better promoted and utilized across BC.
In addition, a delegation of eight family members and self advocates from PLAN travelled to Victoria and presented a list of forward-thinking recommendations to Minister Don McRae and his team, who showed great hospitality and consideration to the visiting group. Through stories and conversation, PLAN families shared a vision of a whole new disability paradigm for the province. One where disability income and benefits are moved out of the welfare system and become a guaranteed amount to be built upon. Where any and all community contributions towards a person with a disability are valued and encouraged, never penalized. And where individuals with disabilities have more authority over their own life choices and decision-making than ever before.
The efforts from all contributors across BC will assist the provincial government in developing a Disability White Paper. This policy document will be shared publicly by June, followed closely by a Summit that will bring together leaders in the disability community to discuss how the ideas and actions in the paper may be implemented.
To read more about this important disability consultation and white paper, go to engage.gov.bc.ca/
Moving Beyond the Welfare Paradigm
PLAN’s Recommendations for the MSDSI Disability White Paper Community Consultation
In 1986 British Columbia became a Canadian leader by closing its institutions for individuals with a disability. This progressive move initiated a significant shift in how a caring community supports its disabled citizens. The responsibility of care shifted from the institutional level to the family and community level.
In spite of our best intentions however, the full expression of this shift has not been realized. While individuals with a disability are now living in the community, many are not yet a part of the community. Institutional barriers and a welfare paradigm continue to limit the ability of individuals with a disability from experiencing the full benefits and responsibilities of community living.
Planned Lifetime Advocacy Networks Society began in 1989 with a group of elderly families asking themselves the question: “Who will take care of my son or my daughter after I’m gone?” These families recognized that the shift from institutional care to community care placed a significant responsibility upon families to facilitate relationships, monitor quality of life, and advocate for their children. Eventually PLAN’s families realized that a better question to guide their efforts was: “What is a good life?”
Over the last twenty-five years PLAN has become an internationally recognized organization that has provided social innovations and a successful network-building model. PLAN pioneered two significant innovations – the Registered Disability Savings Plan, and the Representation Agreement – as well as facilitated the development of Tyze, an online network-building tool. PLAN’s ideas have been replicated in communities around the world.
PLAN understands that social innovation requires adopting a new mindset; a new framework; and a new paradigm. We recognize that a progressive and caring society needs to focus on what people can do rather than only what they cannot do. Acknowledge their assets rather than just their needs. And that the role of programs and services is to support the inter-dependence of individuals, not supplant their inter-dependence and foster continued dependence.
This new mindset will lead to new legislation, new policies and procedures, and new funding methodologies.
- Take our sons and daughters out of the welfare systemWelfare is designed as a system of last resort. It is accessed when all other efforts to create financial security have failed or been exhausted. Additionally it is intended as a temporary support. Because of its temporary nature a high level of accountability is in place to review recipients for continued compliance with funding criteria. Our children with a disability, however, do not have a temporary condition. What is required is not a system of last resort, but rather a thoughtful framework that supports a life of dignity, contribution, choice, relationships, and quality living.
- Invite Community ContributionThe current system fails to tap into the potential for the community to contribute to the well being of an individual with a disability and share in the responsibility of caring for our most vulnerable citizens. Financial gifts are deducted dollar for dollar from future disability assistance, discouraging families and friends from contributing towards their loved one with a disability. Similar rules dissuade people with a disability from pursuing employment or saving to invest in their own futures. Disability benefits ought to provide a secure foundation upon which one’s highest potential can be realized and a framework that invites the contributions of a caring community.
- Provide Direct Individualized FundingProviding disability supports under an individualized funding model changes the relationship between service providers and individuals with disabilities. Currently, most disability service agencies focus on the government-agency contractual relationship rather than on the clients and families they serve. When individuals and their families are responsible for securing service contracts and monitoring quality of service this fosters more effective and efficient services. Social agencies will become more like enterprises—social enterprises—held accountable by their customers’ satisfaction. Services will support a “good life”, not supplant it, be tailor-made for the individuals receiving services, and be transferable to other regions. The public cost of disability supports will decrease as efficiencies and effectiveness increase. Make direct individualized funding an option any family can easily access.
- Allow the Use of government funds to develop networksAfter 25 years of experience in creating networks of support, PLAN has discovered the power of relationships to transform the lives of people with disabilities. A caring community is essential to both quality of life today and security tomorrow. A strong personal network has proven to create greater independence, self-worth, a sense of belonging, accountability, crisis management and overall quality of life. PLAN has a model that works. Permitting the use of individualized funding to pay for the development and maintenance of networks of support would allow every person with a disability to enjoy the benefits of a network of support.
- Develop a Provincial Family Advisory Committee on DisabilitiesThis advisory committee would be made up of family members representing a diverse sector of individuals who have a disability. The role of the committee would be to interact with appropriate agencies at a provincial level regarding key topics such as assets, education, employment, social networks, personal supports and housing, and would work towards solutions that meet the needs and interests of those they represent.
- Create a Centre of ExcellenceA new type of expertise is needed to assist families who have a child with a disability to secure their future. A Centre for Excellence supported with “future proofing experts” would provide the guidance and support needed to secure the future in areas such as: RDSPs, Representation Agreements, home ownership or rental options, managing individualized funding, wills and estate planning, trusts, navigating government benefits, and linking everything together so all work in concert.
- Ensure every individual is registered for an RDSPThe RDSP is an important financial resource to secure the future for individuals with a disability. Every eligible BC citizen ought to be registered for the RDSP. Make BC a leader for the maximum uptake of the RDSP in Canada by integrating information and support on the disability savings plan into government services.
- Remove Restrictions on TrustsRestrictions on trusts limit the capacity of individuals with a disability to secure their future. Because trust money was originally earned, saved and provided by the family for the Trust, money paid out of a Trust should be allowed to benefit the person in whatever way the Trustees deem appropriate. Just like the RDSP.
- Ensure all BC agencies recognize the Representation AgreementThe Representation Agreement (RA) is a powerful tool created by the BC government to honour the capacity of a network of support to assist with decision-making and honour choice. The Representation Agreement is an important tool that BC should be proud of. All organizations and government ministries ought to recognize and honour the Representation Agreement.
- Convert housing assets owned by CLBC to personal ownership.More needs to be done to encourage home ownership amongst people with a disability. One option is to move housing stocks into the hands of individuals rather than organizations.
We at PLAN believe that moving disability benefits out of the welfare system would be simpler for government to administer, as it would do away with onerous monthly income reporting requirements. This would free up frontline workers to support a life of dignity, contribution, choice, relationships, and quality living.
An asset-based approach, one where clawbacks do not exist, would encourage saving and the accumulation of assets, and act as a financial buffer to create financial security. It would encourage greater financial literacy amongst people with disabilities, and recognize and encourage financial gifts of support from family and friends.
If families were given the option to purchase the services they require, such as network development and maintenance, financial planning, and home ownership, the market would respond appropriately, providing greater efficiency and effectiveness.
Formulating these recommendations and putting them into practice will enhance the ability of families and the community to manage the responsibility of care for people with a disability. As British Columbia continues in its shift away from institutionalization, a partnership approach between government and families will free everyone to better imagine, innovate and implement. By encouraging all contributions, we all have a better chance of achieving a good life.
Thank you for conducting this community consultation and for setting the intention to increase the inclusion and independence of people with disabilities across British Columbia. PLAN appreciates the time you have taken to hear our thoughts on these important matters. And we look forward to seeing a new model of support that will once again lead the way for families and governments around the world.