Occupational injury or disease can be devastating to a worker’s household income can be devastating. Policy changes to workers’ compensation have increased claims denials and cut benefits, forcing an increasing number of injured workers onto taxpayer-funded social assistance. Many others – the true number 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, while Board policies on deeming create only phantom jobs and empty pockets.
- A 2017 report Where Did They Go? by Amanda Richards and Sara Penny is the first step in a research initiative by legal clinics and the Ontario Network of Injured Workers’ Groups to find out just what does happen to Ontario’s injured workers with permanent impairments who are denied workers’ compensation or have their benefits are cut off when they are unable to get employment after their injury. A related action and policy forum Injured Workers and Social Assistance looked at income security for those forced to rely on publicly-funded supports, and the extent of earnings recovery following permanent impairment.
Employment barriers consistently pose challenges for those able to return to work. A Statistics Canada report from the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability puts the employment rate of working-age persons with disabilities at 59% compared to 80% for those without disabilities. During economic downturns including the one resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, injured workers and persons with disabilities are particularly vulnerable in the labour market.
The depth of injured worker poverty
A 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. A 2019 submission to the government’s pre-budget hearings by the Thunder Bay & District Injured Workers Support Group details the impact of growing income inequality on this community.
The second of two RAACWI-funded ONIWG surveys on injured workers and poverty 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
Real poverty reduction
In December 2020 the Ontario government set out its 2020-2025 Poverty Reduction Strategy . While it continues the previous 5-year poverty strategy commitment to supporting employment for persons with disabilities and to helping employers overcome misconceptions, the new strategy falls short.
…Many people, particularly women, racialized groups and people living with disabilities, experience poverty because they work low-income and precarious jobs. The Strategy could benefit from greater acknowledgement of this reality and by including measures to help Code-protected groups overcome the systemic barriers to employment they often face and gain meaningful jobs despite current labour market conditions… (Ontario Human Rights Commission, Jan. 26, 2021)
- Ontario Human Rights Commission. 2021 Jan. 26. Letter to the Minister on Ontario’s Poverty Reduction Strategy.
- Pettinicchio, David and Michelle Maroto. 2020 Mar. 13. “Canadians with disabilities face an uncertain financial future.” UofT News
- Feed Ontario. 2019 Oct. The Cost of Poverty in Ontario (examines the relationship between poverty, poor health, the justice system and lost productivity).
- Colour of Poverty – Colour of Change. 2019 Mar. Fact Sheet #5: Racialized Poverty in Employment. Toronto: COP-COC.
- Tompa, Emile. 2017 Nov. 24. Labour-market Earnings Recovery Following Permanent Impairment After Work Injury (presentation). Toronto: Institute for Work & Health
- Richards, Amanda et al. 2017 Nov. Where Did They Go? Scoping the Ability to Track Social Assistance Outcomes for Injured Workers. Waterloo: University of Waterloo.
- 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 (and his later publications on the working poor)
- 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