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7 effects of living without personal identification (ID)

Why that one little card in your wallet is more important than you realize

Most of us never think twice about how important our personal identification is – until we lose it. A personal ID gives us access to a range of services, supports, and opportunities: health care, renting a home, opening a bank account, and securing employment, just to name a few.

Personal ID is considered not only a basic need but a basic right, essential to stability, well-being, and full participation in society. Yet, despite its critical importance, many vulnerable people face barriers to accessing their own personal ID. The cost is often prohibitive, or people are challenged to provide an address when they do not have a permanent residence. A lack of ID is an issue that impacts a surprising and significant number of people in our community who can’t access the supports and opportunities they need. This prevents them from meeting their basic needs and, over time, perpetuates the cycle of poverty.

Seven impacts of living without a personal ID:

  1. Inability to open a bank account and thus access a range of mainstream financial services such as direct deposit services, free cheque cashing, credit, and so on: two pieces of ID are required
  2. Inability to use the food bank: this often requires two pieces of ID for an adult and one piece of ID for a child to access an emergency food hamper
  3. Inability to access the health care system: a provincial health care card is required
  4. Inability to rent an apartment: photo ID is often required by landlords, and sometimes even your social insurance number card
  5. Inability to secure formal employment: a SIN card is usually required
  6. Inability to access government benefits: Alberta Works requires photo ID, both Alberta Seniors Benefit and Persons with Development Disabilities registration require ID, etc.
  7. Inability to vote in elections: government-issued ID containing elector’s photograph, current address, and name is required to vote in a provincial election if not on a voter list. For municipal elections, ID with name and current address is required

United Way of Calgary and Area recognizes the lack of a personal ID as a critical issue in terms of addressing homelessness and poverty in our community. We have worked with several non-profit partners to offer ID-related services to thousands of vulnerable people in our community and helped to spark discussions with government and registries about how to improve policies and practices.

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