Poverty Among Seniors
CARP’S POSITION PAPER
Submitted by Edgar Williams, Chair, CARP Avalon Chapter
National Seniors Council Roundtable
St. John’s, February 20, 2008
What do we mean by Poverty?
According to Statistics Canada “measures of ‘low income’ are intended to identify individuals and families who are substantially worse off than others in the population.” (1) But the “low-income cut off” (LICO) line is a measure of income not poverty.
To fully understand what it means to be poor, the real needs and expenditures of the targeted groups must be factored in. Drug costs may be more important to seniors while minimum wage or school costs may matter more to young families.
Reality of Seniors Living in Poverty
The myth that poverty among Canadian seniors has almost been eradicated is being perpetuated by governments, media and segments of the general public, based on Statistics Canada’s assertion that only 6.1% of seniors are living with low income. Even if this statistic were accurate, it would still represent over 268,000 seniors.
In reality, the 36% of seniors (over 1.6 million) who are receiving the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) are also living in poverty. The average CPP [$5,777.52,] plus Old Age Security (OAS) [$6,028] and GIS [$4,727.96] bring the total income of single low income seniors to $16,533.48, which is below the LICO of $17,957 (for communities of 500,000 and over) by $1,423.52. The maximum CPP [$10,609.44] plus OAS [$6,028] and GIS [$2,309.48] bring the total income of a single low income senior to $18,946.92, which is $989.52 above the LICO. However the LICO is not set at a level to meet the real cost of living. In fact, it barely covers the basic essentials of daily living and would not accommodate costs such as medications not covered by or delisted from provincial drug plans or health care services not covered by provincial health plans.
This is compounded by financial challenges to family caregivers and the shortage of affordable housing. Many low income seniors are forced to choose between paying the rent and buying needed medicines. Their reduced resiliency means that the impact of poverty on their health and well being is greater – and this increases the costs to the health care system and affects the financial, emotional and physical well-being of the Sandwich Generation as they care for their elders as well as their children.
Governments recognize the need but fall short on solutions.
All levels of government have recognized the need to address the specific challenges faced by seniors and provide varying amounts of support but with no comprehensive national anti-poverty strategy, inadequate levels of support, claw backs (2), insufficient awareness that support is available (3), lack of affordable housing, and persistent barriers to meaningful employment. The problem of seniors living in poverty will continue to increase as Canada’s population ages. Today, there are 11 million Canadians who are 50+, a full 34% of the population.
What CARP recommends
1. Define poverty to include both sides of the income/expenditure equation. 2. Create a pan-Canadian Anti-Poverty Strategy for all ages. HEALTH