As a Matter of Fact: Poverty and Disability in Canada


Based on the Participation and Activity Limitation Survey (PALS) of 2006, people with disabilities make up 16.5% of the adult population 15 years and older in Canada, or nearly 4.2 million people.[1] PALS is Statistics Canada's 'flagship' survey on disability.

Drawing from the Census of 2006, PALS provides information about people living on low incomes. Statistics Canada classifies families and people who live alone or with non-related others as having low after-tax incomes where they spend 20% or more than the average on food, shelter and clothing.[2] This low-income cut-off (LICO) is sometimes called the 'poverty line';[3] it does not take into account disability-related expenses for medications, services, mobility aids, assistive technologies and other disability-specific costs.

Disability and Poverty

The overall poverty rate for Canadian adults was 10.5% in 2006, comprising 2.6 million people. The Conference Board of Canada recently found that Canada ranks 15th out of 17 countries in terms of poverty among working-age people and gave Canada a 'D' rating on that basis.[4] For people with disabilities the poverty rate was 14.4%, comprising nearly 600,000 people.


Some 55% of adults with disabilities are women and 45% are men, compared with 50.7% and 49.3%, respectively, of people without disabilities. Among people with disabilities living in poverty, 59% are women compared with 55.4% of people without disabilities living in poverty.

Living Arrangements

Poverty is associated with living arrangements. For instance, amongst people who live alone, 31% with disabilities live in poverty compared with 21.3% of their counterparts without disabilities. More than half of people with disabilities (53.7%) who live with others but not family members (e.g., in shared living arrangements or rooming/boarding houses) have incomes below the poverty line as compared with 36.3% of their non-disabled counterparts. Some 21.3% of lone parents with disabilities have incomes below the poverty line compared with 18.4% of lone parents without disabilities.


Age is also associated with low income. Poverty rates are considerably higher for persons with disabilities up to the typical age of retirement (65 years) then drop to about the same levels as for retirement-aged persons without disabilities.

Type of Disability

Type of disability is also associated with the likelihood of poverty. People with disabilities in the areas of communication (24.1%) and cognition or psychological well-being (learning, memory, Developmental/Intellectual Disability, psychiatric diagnosis—22.3%) are more much more likely than people without disabilities (9.7%) to be living in poverty.

Poverty and type of disability

  • No disability—Poverty rate of 9.7%
  • Any disability—Poverty rate of 14.4%
  • Mobility—Poverty rate of 15.2%
  • Agility—Poverty rate of 14.8%
  • Pain—Poverty rate of 15.2%
  • Communicating—Poverty rate of 24.1%
  • Hearing—Poverty rate of 10.3%
  • Seeing—Poverty rate of 17.1%
  • Any cognitive or psychological—Poverty rate of 22.3%

Employment and Education

Among working-age people (15 to 64 years) living in poverty when PALS was conducted, 23.1% with disabilities were employed compared with 48.4% of people without disabilities and living in poverty. Some 38.4% with disabilities and living in poverty had not graduated from high school compared with 24.6% of their counterparts without disabilities.

  • [1] People classified as having a disability in PALS are those who indicate any difficulty hearing, seeing, communicating, walking, climbing stairs, bending, learning or doing any similar activities or who have a physical condition or mental condition or health problem that reduces the amount or kind of activity they can do at home, work or school or in other activities such as transportation or leisure. The present fact sheet draws from the public use file, which excludes people living in the northern territories and some Aboriginal communities; Statistics Canada has not created a measure of low income for people living in the northern territories or in Aboriginal communities.
  • [2] The number of people in the family/household and the size of the community (as measured by the number of people) are all taken into account when low-income cut-offs (LICOs) are calculated. For more information see Statistics Canada. "Low income after-tax cut-of". Retrieved September 16, 2009 from
  • [3] National Council on Welfare. (2009). Welfare Incomes, 2006 and 2007. Ottawa: Author.
  • [4] Conference Board of Canada. (2009). How Canada Performs: A Report Card on Canada. Retrieved September 18, 2009 from