Poverty growing among Canada’s seniors as government spends money on spas and limos

Ed Broadbent’s final act as leader of the federal NDP was to pass a resolution in the House of Commons to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000. The motion gave rise to the non-partisan group, Campaign 2000 who describe themselves as, “a vibrant network of national, regional and local partner organizations that actively work on child/family issues from diverse perspectives.” One of the tasks this group took upon themselves is to issue poverty report cards.

In their recent report, a number of disturbing trends were identified. They show that 1 in 10 Canadians live in poverty; that the gap between rich and poor continues to grow; and most shockingly, that poverty rates among Canada’s seniors increased by nearly 25% at the beginning of the financial meltdown.

In Question Period this week, Conservatives claimed that Canada leads the world in terms of seniors’ prosperity. That is not very reassuring. We were already aware that too many seniors are living in poverty.

One of the problems the poverty rates highlight is the gap in income between elderly women and men. It was reported that women make up 80% of the increase in poverty among seniors. Add to that the fact that women live longer than men and generally did not earn as much in their prime, and the long-term prospects for fighting this phenomenon look bleak.

It will take political will to combat poverty among seniors and this government does not seem to have any. If we allow more and more seniors to live in poverty we will see health care costs rise unnecessarily as we pay for the effects of poverty as opposed to paying for avoiding the problem in the first place.

People living in a constant state of poverty are forced to make decision no one would envy. Having to choose between rent, food, electricity or medication are some real examples of this. Add the constant stress of worrying about money to the belief that your situation will not likely improve and depression will become a major factor as well.

Seniors living in poverty is damning to a society, in my opinion. That the situation is getting worse speaks to negligence by a government that is preoccupied with their own fortunes and unable, or unwilling to put the brakes on the conditions that allow the gap between rich and poor to grow year after year. This government is happy to hand out excessive tax breaks to corporations and doesn’t even appear to be concerned about the billions of potential tax dollars lost to offshore accounts in tax havens. They talk a good game, but are exposed at every turn.

This week we learned that the government spent $125 million in hospitality since taking office. While many Canadians were reeling from the fiscal meltdown that coincided with their election, Conservatives were wining and dining on the public purse. In mounting a weak defence to the revelations, the Conservative resorted to claiming the Liberals were worse. These are the same people who were elected, in part, as a reaction to that kind of waste. How is it that they have strayed so far in so little time? That money could have been used to combat poverty and is enough to provide a year’s worth of Old Age Security payments to 20,000 seniors. Conservatives are telling us we have to tighten our belts to fight the deficit. Naturally, they mean everyone but them and it has become clear that it is the poorest among us who must do it first.