Monday, March 15, 2010
Quadriplegic Sylvia West says she can’t make ends meet living in Vancouver on a government disability pension. (CBC)
As the Paralympic Games in Vancouver and Whistler showcase the extraordinary skills and support for some athletes with disabilities, the reality for many disabled in B.C. stands in stark contrast.
Sylvia West has been a quadriplegic for almost 30 years and still managed to get a degree in social work and raise four children. But West, 57, said she can no longer make ends meet on her provincial disability pension of $1,100 a month.
“Usually [ends] don’t meet,” West told CBC News. “Most months, I’m robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
Her children are not in a position to help her, she said. Subsidized housing does reduce expenses a little but not enough.
“I need more money,” said West. “If I don’t get some money, I probably wont be around much longer, struggling to do what I do and keep myself going and being independent.”
West said the cost of living in Vancouver was making her situation even worse.
“Less and less am I even able to afford food.”
No increase since 2007
West’s story is not that different from those of many of the province’s 86,000 people on similar pensions, according to B.C.’s Coalition for People with Disabilities.
“There has not been an increase in disability rates since 2007,” said spokesman Robin Loxton. “Meanwhile, the cost of living has gone up and people are really struggling to make ends meet.”
The B.C. government does allow those on disability pension to increase their income with part-time work.
Epilepsy sufferer Gerald McCadden earns a little extra money making pottery.
“It works out to $330,” said McCadden. He makes another $100 a month sweeping up at the Vancouver pottery outlet, Just Pottery.
But anything disability pensioners make over $500 is clawed back, making it tough for those, like McCadden, who don’t have subsidized housing.
“Rents have gone through the roof. I’ve looked at 15 or 20 places. I’m trying to get into a co-op,” he said.
Loxton said most people he deals with aren’t trying to beat the system.
“They are not trying to take advantage of anyone. They are just trying to get ahead.”