Nfld. & Labrador

'We're the forgotten generation': St. John's SOS group shines light on old-age poverty

Two women have created the group SOS — Support Our Seniors — which aims to raise awareness about the financial hardships of the elderly. It held its first meeting in St. John's on Thursday afternoon.

Founders say seniors not getting enough government assistance to live comfortably

Mary Martin, 74, left, and Mary Moylan, 76, have started the group SOS to help support seniors who have to work well into their golden years to make ends meet. (Gary Locke/CBC)

Mary Martin and Mary Moylan are well into their golden years, but the two St. John's women must still hold down jobs to make ends meet.

Martin, 74, works as a home-support worker and Moylan, 76, as an accountant to supplement the fixed government income they say is far too little to live on.

"My income is $1,600 a month. So out of that $1,600 a month, that's my CPP, my OAS and my GIS," said Martin, referring to the Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security and guaranteed income supplement.

The two women have created the group SOS — Support Our Seniors — which aims to raise awareness about the financial hardships of the elderly. The group held its first meeting in St. John's on Thursday afternoon.

Moylan said the federal government relies on seniors to keep their voices unheard, which she feels is the big issue. She hopes by getting other seniors to join the group and remove the shame of living near poverty, seniors will have a stronger voice come election time.

Moylan said the federal government relies on seniors to keep quiet about national issues such as poverty. (Gary Locke/CBC)

"There's a lot of reliance, I feel, on us being silent, and I want to end that," Moylan said. "We want to end the silence around this and bring it more forward."

Data from Statistics Canada shows that in 2017, 3.9 per cent of low-income Canadians were 65 or older. In Newfoundland and Labrador, it was 4.9 per cent.

According to the market basket measure, which is used to measure the regional poverty line in Canada, people in Newfoundland and Labrador living alone or with people like roommates who aren't part of their economic family need an average annual income of $19,683 to maintain a basic standard of living in 2015.

At $1,600 a month, a senior like Martin is just below that, at $19,200 a year.

Martin said she's left with about $300 after her monthly bills such as rent, vehicle payments and medications are paid.

The $300 left over goes toward other basic necessities, such as groceries and clothing, she said. She often shops at thrift stores and only buys sale items at grocery stores.

Martin said she feels her generation is being forgotten. (Gary Locke/CBC)

Generation left to fend for itself

"It's not a lot of money.… A lot of times, whatever my daughter cooks for supper, she'll save me lasagna or something, and I'll have that the next day," Martin said.

Martin works five hours a day, 15 hours a week, and said she's almost always tired after her shifts end. But she says that she's thankful she can work even that much. Otherwise, she would likely have to give up her vehicle. 

She said she knows there are many other seniors across Newfoundland and Labrador and likely across the country with similar stories. One is an 80-year-old housekeeper who works in the retirement facility where she lives. 

Martin wants other seniors to know her group is trying to do something about changing the way they live, but her peers have to come forward and say they need help. 

She feels her generation is being left to fend for itself.

"We've contributed to building what we have here in this province and in the country, so we need more," she said.

"We're the forgotten generation."

What agencies are seeing

In St. John's, Connections for Seniors provides temporary shelter and support to seniors in crisis or facing homelessness.

The non-profit agency's co-founder, Mohamed Abdallah, told CBC News one of the most common stories he hears in the office is about seniors who can't afford food, or have to choose between buying food and their medication.

The agency used to get about four client referrals a month and now gets about four a week, he said. And more than 60 per cent of his clients need financial support to make it to the end of the month, he said.

Statistics Canada data indicates a decline in the number of seniors in poverty in Newfoundland and Labrador. However, Connections for Seniors co-founder Mohamed Abdallah said the numbers his non-profit agency is seeing are actually increasing. (CBC)

According to Abdallah, numbers and statistics don't always tell the entire story. He said it's necessary to address problems on a case-by-case basis instead of grouping together all seniors in poverty because they all have varying needs and expenses.

Despite statistics showing that seniors living in poverty is gradually declining, Abdallah said the numbers his organization is seeing are actually increasing.

And the message that seniors need more financial help has been consistent across Newfoundland and Labrador, according to Suzanne Brake, seniors' advocate in N.L., who has been visiting communities in the province. 

"They're really challenged with how they make ends meet, how they make choices around what are the most important things in their lives," said Brake, after SOS's first meeting concluded Thursday afternoon.

Brake has been tasked with writing a report, the first of many she says, which will reflect what she has been hearing during public consultations across the province.

For example, Brake said research collected at the Gathering Place, a social services organization in St. John's, show that one in two people who requires services are 50 and older. One in four is 65 and older.

"If you want do define poverty, then we can just look at how things are really happening, and that's a good example," she said.   

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story included a graph showing poverty lines by metropolitan areas. In the updated story, the graph has been removed, as the numbers didn't reflect the situation for individuals living alone or people living with roommates or other non-economic family members.
    Aug 29, 2019 12:39 PM NT

With files from Carolyn Stokes

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.