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
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
During economic downturns, injured workers are among the most vulnerable. Employment barriers pose challenges for those able to return to work (a 2017 Statistics Canada report gave the employment rate of working-age persons with disabilities at only 49%, compared to 79% for those without disabilities).
Real poverty reduction
In December 2019 the Ontario government launched a new poverty reduction strategy consultation. It is yet to be seen if as with the previous “2014-2019 Poverty Reduction Strategy” it will include a commitment to supporting employment for persons with disabilities and to helping employers overcome misconceptions. While that was welcome, injured workers and their advocates asked for more:
… 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”)
- 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.
- 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)
- 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