As population ages, Manitoba retiree says many seniors don't have enough to live on
The number of people over 85 year old to triple in 30 years, according to Statistics Canada
Some Manitoba seniors, and those who serve them, say the way older Canadians are currently treated shows that the country isn't ready to support an aging population.
Many of the province's older residents are lonely, hungry and often can't get access to services they need to live independent lives, they say.
"The amount of money that a person who's on Old Age Security gets is inadequate. Totally wrong," said John Stephenson, a retiree living in Winnipeg.
He was reacting to census data released by Statistics Canada on Wednesday, showing that Canada's workforce is older than ever.
With one of every five adults in Canada on the cusp of retirement, there are more prospective retirees — people aged 55 to 64 — than people just entering the workforce (those age 15 to 24).
As well, the over-85 population is expected to triple from 861,000 to 2.7 million in the next three decades, according to Statistics Canada.
Stephenson, who worked for 20 years in the correctional services, and retired as Manitoba's chief corrections officer, says Old Age Security and the Canada Pension Plan don't provide enough for most people.
Stephenson says he's all right, having worked in government, but is concerned about people who do not have a private pension or savings, "or who worked in minimum wage jobs all their life."
"I feel sympathy for those ones who are in that situation.… I don't know how they exist sometimes," he said.
The Old Age Security payments should be doubled, he says.
Lack of services
Even when some services are free for seniors, advocates say many have trouble accessing them.
Megan Wallace, who co-ordinates the volunteer program Support to Seniors, says she's seeing a large number of people using food banks.
"More than ever before, but they can't get to the food bank to get their food," she said.
Transportation is "a huge issue" for Manitoba's seniors, she said.
Support to Seniors operates out of the Good Neighbours Active Living Centre in Winnipeg. Wallace says it helps older people with basic daily living activities, including things like budgeting, transportation and socialization.
Wallace, who sometimes arranges for food bank packages to be collected, says food security is an issue for seniors.
"Even with using the food bank, that food is only coming once a month and it's just a box — one box. And it is a growing concern. We definitely have some food equity challenges."
Mental health support is one of the other main gaps in the system, according to Wallace. She notes that there are programs for seniors in Manitoba that are "phenomenal … but they're always full."
"And when a senior is struggling with even something like suicide, then you need those services now, not nine months from now," she said.
Governments should invest in more programming like hers, she says, with people who are working in the community and can reach out to seniors.
"We do need more social services for mental health care — not just awareness, but the actual care and transportation," she said.
Family support and volunteers
Stephenson and his wife now live in an apartment at the Good Neighbours Active Living Centre, on Henderson Highway, after moving from a three-bedroom house in North Kildonan.
The move let them live closer to the services they need. Their doctor is now a five-minute walk away. They also have access to a library and "all of the stuff you would need to enjoy retirement," Stephenson says.
He considers himself lucky to have relatives who live nearby: four children, four grandchildren, plus step-grandchildren and other relatives. In non-pandemic times, he and his wife are active in their church community too, he said.
But "most people that live in these two buildings are not in the same financial or family situation," he said.
"They're lonely. They're by themselves. They have problems."
A seniors' club he's part of makes a difference for those who don't have family connections, he says.
"We get together, we have meals, we have concerts, we have cards. Every night of the week there's something going on in the room upstairs," he said.
For others who want to help, Wallace says there are a lot of volunteer opportunities.
"Call a senior in your life," Wallace said.
"If you don't have someone, volunteer, connect with a program. Go to a local senior centre and get involved. It only takes a little bit."
With files from Emily Brass