The impact of occupational injury or disease on a worker’s household income can be devastating. Recent policy changes to workers’ compensation that have increased claims denials and cut benefits are forcing more and more injured workers onto taxpayer-funded social assistance (in 2009 6,883 Ontario families were on social assistance because their workers’ compensation benefits were below the poverty line). Additional others – unknown because the government does not track such statistics- are forced to rely on welfare because their claims were denied or delayed. The links between poverty and health are well-known. For injured workers, financial insecurity resulting from WSIB austerity cuts compounds psychological and physical harm.
The depth of injured worker poverty
A recent study led by Peri Ballantyne “Poverty Status of Worker Compensation Claimants with Permanent Impairments” (Critical Public Health) provides an in-depth look at the level of poverty among Ontario injured workers and families, health and social characteristics, income and employment changes.
The second of two RAACWI-funded surveys “ONIWG 2010 Injured Worker and Poverty Survey” confirmed that injured workers take the risks and pay the price:
- Injured workers experience nearly 4 times the rate of poverty for Ontario
- 1 in 5 workers are living in extreme poverty after injury (less than $10,000 per year). Just over 40% reported an income of less than $15,000/year
- only 7 of the injured workers surveyed had used a food bank before they were injured. After injury, the number rose to 77
- 1 in 5 workers lost their home after injury
- over 50% were unable to afford the prescriptions they needed
- before injury almost 90% were employed full-time, after injury only 9% still were
During economic downturns, injured workers are among the most vulnerable. Between 2008 and 20012 the number of ODSP recipients also receiving WSIB benefits went up from 593 to 755, a 27% increase. High unemployment poses challenges for those able to return to work. Statistics Canada’s “Canadian Survey on Disability 2012” reports the employment rate of working-age persons with disabilities was only 49%, compared to 79% of those without disabilities.
Real poverty reduction
The Ontario government’s “2014-2019 Poverty Reduction Strategy” includes a commitment to supporting employment for persons with disabilities and to helping employers overcome misconceptions. While this is welcome, injured workers and their advocates asked for more.
… Poverty reduction for injured workers means embracing a system that treats them with dignity and respect, and that truly seeks to support them through their workplace injuries or illnesses. A return to Meredith’s founding principles is key to re-establishing a just compensation system that addresses injured workers’ needs while also freeing up resources in health care and social assistance that can be used towards a broader poverty reduction goal…” (Injured Workers’ Consultants’ “Submission to the 2013 consultations”)
- Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. 2016. OnPolicy: Ontario’s working poor (in nine Ontario cities) Toronto: CCPA-Ontario
- Galer, Dustin. 2016. Life and Work at the Margins : (Un)employment, Poverty and Activism in Canada’s Disability Community since 1966. Toronto: Centre for Research on Work Disability Policy
- Ballantyne, Peri J, et al. 2016. “Poverty status of worker compensation claimants with permanent impairments.” Critical Public Health 26(2): 173-190
- Peters, Yvonne and Debra Parkes. 2014. Making Poverty a Human Rights Issue for People with Disabilities. Winnipeg: Council of Canadians with Disabilities
- Stapleton, John. 2013. The ‘Welfareization’ of Disability Incomes in Ontario. Toronto: Metcalf Foundation
- Bonnar, John. 2012 Dec 18. “Injured Workers Falling Deeper into Poverty.” Rabble.ca
- Brotchie, Karli, and Becky Casey. 2008. “Poverty in Motion: The Rippling Effects” . Thunder Bay: Thunder Bay & District Injured Workers’ Support Group
- “Health Providers Against Poverty” [website]. Toronto: HPAP