As chair of the Saskatchewan Seniors Mechanism I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak with you today on behalf of the organization. The Saskatchewan Seniors Mechanism is an umbrella organization representing most of the larger senior and retirement organizations in the province. As you probably know, Saskatchewan has the highest proportion of people aged 65+ among all provinces, approximately 146 000 residents.
My references are for people of this age group, i.e., 65+, and for all Canadians.
I am going to speak on only three of the topics you proposed: (1) poverty among seniors including recommendations for income support, (2) housing, and (3) eldercare including issues related to home care. Although these issues are interrelated I will discuss them in order. I will first state the problem(s) followed by recommendations in each case. Since time is limited I will distribute a copy of my paper to each of you.
Poverty among Seniors is a serious issue in Canada as the following numbers indicate. Seventeen percent of seniors in Canada live below the poverty line ($16 521 annual income in large urban centres, $16 407 in small urban, and $13 311 in rural areas). Among seniors who live alone 43% of women and 31% of men live in poverty. In 1997, among people age 75+, 11% of females and 9% of males lived on less than $10 000 annual income; 75% of females and 58% of males lived on less than $20 000 a year. This situation is unconscionable in a rich country like Canada.
Poverty among Canadians, not just seniors, has been exacerbated in the past decade by Federal Government income and corporate tax policy which favors the wealthy at the expense of low income Canadians.
Many seniors live in sub-standard housing. This is a major problem in many of Canada's larger cities where rent is very high and accommodation is limited. It is also a problem for many aboriginal people living on reserves and in Canada's North. Some low-income families, including seniors, spend as much as 50% of disposable income on rent; less than 30% is recommended. For many seniors there is so little left after paying rent that the choice becomes food or medication. Many are crowded into unsafe and unhealthy substandard accommodation with other family members living in poverty. Needless to say, this is a recipe for disease and abuse of both elders and children.
It is well-known that one of the major determinants of health is healthy living conditions.
Increased federal funding is needed to
Homecare workers are "silent victims in a silent system" (Report on Home Care commissioned by the Canadian Association of Retired Persons). These caregivers are usually spouses or children. They are under-funded, over-stressed and under-valued as they strive to care for ill, frail, or dying family or friends. In 1996 there were 2.1 million informal caregivers providing home care to 800 000 seniors and the current number is probably higher. When funding for health care was slashed in the 90's in order to balance both Federal and Provincial budgets a great deal of the responsibility for care was removed from professional providers and downloaded to families. This has taken a terrible toll on receivers of care, givers of care, and other family members who are often ignored in this whole matter. This shift in responsibility has occurred with little or no public discussion. Much of what is known in this area is anecdotal; governments have not collected nor disseminated appropriate data to make long term strategic plans.
It should be noted that while the elderly have special needs, home care policy must address all those cared for in the home.
Home care in Canada is a system by default. Although the Romanow Report makes strong recommendations re a national home care program virtually nothing has been done on a national level.
The first two of these recommendations come from the Romanow Report and I am reiterating them here.
The quality of life of many senior citizens depends on high quality, publicly funded and publicly administered health care. We are in full agreement with the recommendations in the Romanow Report. We would like to stress two aspects: (1) The Federal Government should transfer to provinces the $2 billion additional dollars promised for health care as recommended in the Report and (2) Establish a strong Health Council to monitor and report to the Government and to the public on health spending and on the delivery of health services in each province so that we know that we are getting "value for money spent"
The Federal Government needs to make long-term plans to cope with changing demographics. About 13% of the population of Canada in 2006 will be over 65; in 2026 it is projected that seniors will make up 21% of the population. By 2030, the last of the almost 10 million babyboomers will have turned 65. The size and nature of the work-force, pensions, the drain on health care services all require longterm planning if a decent standard of living is to be preserved for all.