No one should have to choose between their financial security and their reproductive rights.
In British Columbia today, having children and taking care of them – roles that disproportionately fall to women – can lead to inequality in employment and to financial insecurity. Significant changes to our public policy are still needed in order to minimize inequalities for women raising families.
That being said, maternity and parental employment insurance benefits are one important measure that has already been introduced in order to reduce the financial penalty associated with having children. So why are families receiving disability assistance being excluded from full and equal access to these benefits?
West Coast LEAF believes that this exclusion is discriminatory and unjustifiable. In our letter to Minister Michelle Stilwell, we urge immediate action to support the employment and reproductive rights of women with disabilities.
Specifically, our letter calls for an end to the current policy that claws back maternity and parental EI benefits from assistance payments received by parents who are designated as Persons with Disabilities (PWD). Since women make up the vast majority of people claiming both maternity and parental benefits, this policy disproportionately penalizes mothers with disabilities who choose to work while on benefits.
These mothers often find themselves and their families plunged into financial crisis when they have babies, even though they have paid into EI and are eligible for maternity benefits.
The clawback is a clear violation of the equality rights of women with disabilities that undermines their freedom to choose whether or not to start a family. It also works against the BC government’s stated goal of increasing employment rates for people receiving PWD benefits.
There is a long and disturbing history of discrimination against women with disabilities aimed at discouraging them from having children – discrimination that is alive and well today, as documented in West Coast LEAF’s 2014 report Able Mothers: The intersection of parenting, disability, and the law.
Our letter outlines a simple step BC can take now to remove a discriminatory barrier facing women with disabilities who wish to become parents. Women and families in BC deserve better.