Friday, 4 November 2011

MoneyMoneyMoney

Yesterday morning, I attended a conference in Ottawa called "End Exclusion: A Celebration of Achievements". It was a morning of lectures and lived experience relating to disability and poverty. Our family is not poor, but we worry about money, especially because Jim has decided to retire from the Foreign Service and his last day of paid employment will be November 29th. In the morning, I listened to Laurie Larson, the President of the Canadian Association for Community Living, tell her story of mothering two sons with disabilities (plus another able-bodied son) while struggling to live modestly on her husband's salary. Her story was one of isolation, frustration, determination, joy and despair - much like my own. In the caregiving world, there are lots of us who nod our heads in recognition of shared experience.

Later in the morning, I heard about the disproportionate numbers of people with disabilities in Canada who are poor. I listened as researchers from Quebec and Victoria picked apart the social policies that push those living on disability pension benefits into cycles of poverty. There is no doubt that our researchers in the field of disability studies and poverty reduction know what the problems are. Quebec has an impressive track record of social innovation and active citizenship incentives folded into their poverty reduction strategies. Other provinces are still struggling to build consensus in order to kickstart their action plan.

But it's not all bad news. At lunch, I ran into Jack Styan, Managing Director of the RDSP Resource Centre. Anyone who has read my book or knows me will be rather tired of my banging on about the wonderfulness of this innovative savings tool for people with disabilities. RDSP stands for Registered Disability Savings Plan - we have one for Nicholas and it's just like an RRSP, except that it's for Nick, not for our retirement. It's a brilliant savings tool and not one of the provinces will cut back pension benefits for the recipient, even if you have a LOT of money in the plan. Who says people with disabilities have to be poor?

Earlier in the week, I went with Jim to two days of a three day retirement course offered by the Department of Foreign Affairs. Yesterday, Jim went to the third day (the psychology session!) and I opted for lectures on poverty and disability instead (not sure who made the better choice!). Anyway, the retirement lectures were helpful, informative and optimistic. We are very, very lucky that Jim has a pension, we have an RDSP and we have wills written that include a trust provision for Nick. I feel optimistic that we will all be OK financially. One disappointment is that I have very little benefit from Canada Pension. Because I looked after the children, especially Nicholas, all of my 'working' life, I earned no CCP benefits. I earned a tiny amount for the years up to the children's age of ten years, but so do all parents who stay at home looking after their children. There is no provision for state pension benefits for those who stay home with their children with disabilities for an entire lifetime. This is unfair and it has to change.

In the afternoon, I opted out of the conference in favour of visiting Nicholas. When I arrived, he was at the dining table with two helpers and plates of chinese take-away. Nick is mostly tube fed, but he can eat a few bites of his favourite foods (like chicken balls and poutine!) for pleasure. Nick was busy planning a weekend outing to CD Warehouse to buy some new playstation games. If there is a connect between disability and poverty, Nicholas doesn't know about it. He just expects that all his family and friends will buy him whatever he wants. As Laurie Larson, or any other mother would do, I put a damper on that attitude and told him that he could buy one new game. And as the kicker, I told him, "Eat the rest of your lunch, there are people starving in the world!" Of course, I learned that line from my mother. Some things in life change and some things never do.




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