Little moments can lead to big change.
That’s the hope of a group of UFV students who hosted a forum at Evergreen Hall on Thursday (Nov. 3). They filled the Slesse Room and talked about how B.C.’s disability benefit is too low, failing to keep up with the skyrocketing cost of living.
The current rate for PWD (Persons with Disabilities) is $1,358.42.
At the height of COVID, the federal government set the CERB (Canada Emergency Response Benefit) at $2,000 to reflect the ‘living wage.’
“And that baffles me because we’re determining that people with disabilities need far less than that,” said Chelsea Kingma, a student in UFV’s Social Work and Human Services program. “As a student, sometimes I’m not able to pay for things or I have to cut corners, and it gets me thinking about how many corners a person with a disability has to cut to make things work. Do they have to choose between food or a roof over their head? What if they have a child to take care of? What if they have to stay with someone who is abusive just because they need the extra financial stability?”
Nine students from UFV’s Social Work and Community Development class partnered with a local group called Chilliwack People First, a branch of People First B.C. that is pushing for the PWD (Persons with Disabilities) rate to be increased to $1,800.
That’s still shy of what’s needed at a time when food, rent and everything else is getting more expensive, but it would be a step in the right direction.
Chilliwack People First president Matthew Yeomans and several others spoke at the forum, sharing stories about how a raise in monthly income would help. Parents of children with disabilities offered their thoughts, along with support workers from community agencies.
Chilliwack councillor Jason Lum and Mission mayor Paul Horn were among those in the audience.
“It’s important for us to give self-advocates a platform, and use our resources to help them share their stories,” said Aliya Dragt, a student in UFV’s Global Development Studies program. “I’ve grown up with privilege while so many people have not. Helping to raise the voices of people who aren’t always heard and lifting the marginalized is important. A big part of advocacy for me is hearing personal stories and understanding how a big issue affects an individual.”
Dragt and Kingma both have a passion for advocacy. In the grand scheme of things, a small student-hosted event may not make a big difference, but both saw it as an opportunity for education.
“There are so many views about this. There are some people who say we shouldn’t be giving them (PWD) any more money and some people say we shouldn’t be giving them any money at all,” Kingma said. “I try to explain to them that, ‘This is how you’re living. Why should they live any different from you?’
“People with disabilities are not lazy. Some of them cannot hold a job. Some can’t get hired because they are looked upon as ‘less than.’
“This is a marginalized group.”
For more on Chilliwack People First, visit selfadvocatenet.com/the-chilliwack-people-first-group/.
For more on B.C.’s Persons with Disability assistance, visit bcdisability.com/pwd-benefits.