We should honour our seniors with real action on poverty

We hear a lot about the disappearing middle class these days and we should be hearing as much, or perhaps even more, about the plight of seniors mired in poverty.   Whether it is because of pensions that underperform or vanish altogether, more seniors are requiring assistance from the government.  One would expect that the challenge would be met head on in order to ensure the people who helped build our country receive the attention and assistance they deserve, but that hasn’t been the case.

Now we hear that despite a commitment to work with the provinces on the issue over the summer, the Conservatives just didn’t find the time.    This is happening in the shadow of their plan to raise the age of eligibility for Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement from 65-67 and clearly illustrates that the financial struggles of seniors is low on the list of Conservative priorities. 

What makes the issue all the more pressing is the fact that this is the fastest growing segment of Canadian society.  Additionally, data released by the Vanier Institute of the Family, states that Canadians over the age of 65 are the demographic group with the largest insolvency and bankruptcy rates in the country.   The collision course of these two variables should be a clarion call to action, but the government is sitting on its hands.

While many experts are advocating a phased increase in the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) as the most practical and effective way to help ensure the retirement security of Canadians, the Conservatives are moving in the opposite direction.  Instead of working on ways to lead more seniors out of poverty, the Conservatives are making people wait longer to be eligible for Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement.  These may be the only source of revenue for those seniors who worked in jobs that did not accrue pensions or pay enough for them to save for retirement.  Current estimates suggest that up to 95,000 recent retirees would fall into poverty today without OAS and GIS. 

But there are steps that can be taken immediately to stop seniors from falling through the cracks.  One such item has already been addressed by a New Democrat bill that would automatically register all Canadian seniors for the Guaranteed Income Supplement.   Currently, people who are eligible must apply to receive these benefits. However, due to many administrative obstacles, it is estimated that some 135,000 GIS-eligible seniors don’t receive this benefit. 

New Democrats also want to reinforce and expand the public pension system to protect employees’ retirement funds and avoid the gutting of pensions that is a predictable development when a company declares bankruptcy. 

These are just a few examples of ways that we can correct systemic injustice and try to protect vulnerable seniors.  It should be the work of your government, but they are clearly happy to realize savings on the backs of seniors.  Proof of that is the government’s failure to make time and meet with the provinces with an eye to making progress on this critical front.  For this, they must be given a failing grade.