Taxing the Disabled

I am a person with a non-visible disability. I present well, until you ask me to speak; then, I sound like an 18 year-old. That’s because, at 18, I became very ill with the prodromal phase of schizophrenia. It has been as crippling up to today as it has been pervasive. Everything from simple chores to the complexities of relationships – and all things in between – are affected. This includes working. With short-term memory loss, lack of organization, the inability to plan for, or foresee possible consequences in, the future, and the inability for both decision-making and impulse control all contribute to a demise in daily functioning. It also worsens as one ages. My psychiatrist used to say that as I would grow older, I would become more and more motionless and mute – simply staring at walls all day if I didn’t have a TV or Internet connection. Personally, I don’t ask for very much. I don’t smoke, nor drink, nor do drugs. I don’t dress fashionably, nor gamble. I don’t do Vegas nor go on annual vacations. I pay my rent and bills on time. I have given back to the community through 30 years of volunteering, and help out my elderly family members as they have been caring for me. But the illness imposes cruel limitations.

Statistically, 1 in 4 of the general population are mentally ill. This might not seem like a big deal to you. Just wait. It gets worse.

When we ask why we, those on disability benefits, can’t get a raise that reflects inflation and the high cost of living in BC, we’re told repeatedly we’re expected to work.

When we approach employers with our resumes, we’re questioned about the holes in our resumes and just exactly what disability we have. They’re not allowed to ask this. But they do anyway. And when we tell them the truth that we have mental illness, they show us the door. Literally. They used to ask right on the application form if we have ever been hospitalized and what for. Now they’re not allowed that, but they take a different route to the same, insistent, discriminatory question.

So, then, seeing our desperation, someone along the way recommends vocational rehab for the mentally ill. These are “non-profit” organizations who get paid at least $5,000, from our BC Liberal provincial government, for each “client” who signs up with them. Whether or not we get jobs at the end or have to repeat the course is a matter of indifference to them (another failed client is potentially a repeat customer, and means another $5000 in the organization’s coffers). They have been known for not graduating the bulk of their “clients” onwards towards jobs, and for making many of us clients believe, if we just come for the fourth time to the same program, we may make it, this time. Non-profit job rehabs in BC are a revolving-door industry for organizations capitalizing on the chronic desperation, innate confusion and eternal hopefulness of some of BC’s most vulnerable of citizens. Meanwhile, the bottom line is that we’re jobless after finishing months or years of “job rehab” sessions, and no closer to working than before.

Now the BC Liberals are taxing the disabled for transportation although, ostensibly, the BC Liberals want to heroically lift the 9-year freeze on our rates. They’re really just using it as a way to perhaps legitimize an eventual pay raise for themselves. The BC Liberal premier not only required two terms for her to sell her pitch again to maybe make mental illness a “disability” (which she never did) as she promised over and over while campaigning, but she appears to have further transgressed by raising the 9-year freeze on disability payments to an increase of $77 minus $52 in claw-back so that disabled people would have to pay for their own public transportation. While it doesn’t bother me to have to pay for the transportation, $25 monthly more is too little to counteract the rising cost of living. It’s a slap in the face, and saying we’re stupid and worthless, perennially powerless, while we’re already being downtrodden by poverty, stigma, and illness. And what has the provincial Liberal premier done in terms of personal transportation during her career in office so far? She charged taxpayers for personal use of airflights for family vacations, justified it, and stayed in office.

I think the BC Liberal government is betting on the likelihood that mentally-ill persons are too disorganized and chemically lobotomized to contribute anything meaningful to the civic and cultural dialogue, or to vote them out of office. Well, I’ve written this short op-ed on behalf of those who suffer like me to prove the provincial Liberals wrong.

©️Veek Young 2017-2022 All Rights Reserved

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