Seniors have earned respect, not poverty
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This article was published 22/01/2021 (858 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The pandemic has been hard on Canada’s seniors in many ways — threats to their health, isolation from friends and families and, for many, it has put an extra strain on budgets that were already tight before COVID-19.
As Canada rebuilds coming out of the pandemic, we have an opportunity to not only repair the damage done during lockdown, but to address longstanding problems such as the inadequate pensions of so many Canadian seniors.
We know we can do it, because we have done it before. In the 20 years leading up to the big Liberal budget cuts of 1995, seniors were progressively moving out of poverty toward a liveable income. Since then, however, the trend has reversed.
Statistics Canada tells us that the rate at which Canadian seniors are slipping below the poverty line increases every year. The rate is faster for seniors than for any other low-income demographic.
This is no surprise to anyone who has seen the pitiful increases in CPP benefits, including supplementary benefits such as the Old Age Supplement and the Guaranteed Income Supplement.
To offset inflation, these government programs are adjusted every year based on the Consumer Price Index. The trick is that CPI is not a cost-of-living index, which would track the changing cost of a minimum standard of living. Instead, CPI measures price changes in the average bundle of goods and services.
Low-income seniors are not buying an average bundle. They spend a higher percentage of their smaller incomes on shelter, food and transportation. If the price of these things goes up faster than the average bundle, then their costs increase faster than the CPI.
Over a 25-year period, these small differences have created a big gap between pension rates and the cost of living. We are long past due for an update.
For many years, meaningful increases in CPP benefits have been a key part of the federal NDP’s election platform. Conservatives usually dismiss these proposals as an “increase in payroll taxes”. New Democrats do not see this is a simple tax; it is an investment in our local economies and shows respect for the dignity of our seniors.
In the last election, the Liberals promised to raise the OAS benefit… but only for Canadians aged 75 and older. It was supposed to have taken effect in July 2020 but was put on hold because of the pandemic.
New Democrats recognize that low-income seniors need more, not less, income support during the pandemic. We also know that seniors aged 65 to 74 deserve to see an increase in their OAS whether we have a pandemic or not.
During a telephone town hall I hosted for Elmwood-Transcona residents in November, 89 per cent of respondents to a straw poll agreed that any increase should apply to all seniors, not just those aged 75 and older. I was glad to see such a high level of support and will continue to fight for better pensions in Parliament.
Elmwood-Transcona constituency report
Daniel Blaikie is the NDP MP for Elmwood-Transcona.