A few months ago, I wrote about millennials and how they are now “Generation Squeeze.” My office received quite a bit of feedback about that topic. Thank you to everyone who wrote to me to express their views. I have not forgotten about another group that is often finding it difficult to make ends meet: Seniors.
In May, I delivered a statement in the House of Commons about older adults in my riding facing financial challenges. This generation too has become “squeezed.” For example, many seniors are providing financial help to their adult children or their grandchildren while trying to live on a fixed income.
Thanks to modern medicine and Canada’s social programs, Canadians are living longer, but pensions and other benefits have not kept up with the rising cost of living. Indeed, in Canada, 15 per cent of seniors currently live in poverty. Some senior women, who may have stayed home to raise children or worked in the family business for little or no salary, have contributed little to the Canada Pension Plan (CPP). As a result, they are now faced with financial difficulties. Though they may qualify for the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) top-up, the process takes time, and the resulting monthly benefits may fall short of what the individual actually needs. In response, the NDP has proposed not cutting off the GIS of seniors who are late filing their taxes.
Moreover, the party has also proposed a National Seniors’ Strategy committing the federal government to create a long-term action plan that would ensure seniors can maintain an adequate quality of life.
When it comes to good quality, affordable housing, seniors are finding the same difficulties as millennials: Rents are increasing at astronomical rates, and just like their younger counterparts who can’t find small starter homes, seniors whose children may have left home are struggling to downsize to smaller homes in an overheated housing market.
In some cases, seniors who need smaller units or long-term care may be obliged to move from their longtime community to find housing. Such moves can result in added expense and sudden social isolation.
Compounding this is a lack of affordable, reliable inter-city transit options, especially now that Greyhound has left the region, and air travel options flying out of Cranbrook have been reduced. Seniors needing access to healthcare in larger communities may incur additional expenses as a result.
Canadian internet and cell phone prices are some of the highest in the world: Seniors need to stay connected both from a social point of view and for their safety, but the current telecom rates are making this necessity more and more of a luxury as seniors have to decide between paying for cell service or paying for housing and groceries.
Another aspect of the affordability crisis is the high cost of prescription medication: In retirement a senior may be paying out of pocket for necessary medications that were once covered by a private drug plan. Provincial programs may only provide patchwork coverage, depending on financial thresholds. This is one reason the NDP is calling for a national pharmacare program that would be another building block towards true universal health care in Canada.
As mentioned, the NDP has been calling on the government for a national seniors’ strategy that would address income, housing, and health considerations of our older generations. It is time that Canadians had a government that worked for them, that helped to improve all aspects of their daily life.
Wayne Stetski is Member of Parliament for Kootenay–Columbia and the federal NDP’s B.C. Caucus Chair.