It seems to happen every year. As soon as the first heat wave occurs and vulnerable seniors begin to get ill, or die, there are calls for more care and consideration to be shown to seniors. Calls for more funding for government services for people who have paid into the system their whole lives. We heard it again last week. Even in our offices we have received several calls from concerned citizens this past week of cases where seniors can’t even get their regular visits from CLSC staffers because budget cuts have reduced personel.
As letter writer Jody Negley writes in today’s oped page, “The 60 deaths due to heat last year and the 6 already this year do not reflect well on our society.” The political — but unadvertised — excuse for ignoring and underfunding seniors’ needs has usually been that they are a minority of the voting public. But that is changing. By 2025 almost 30% of Canadians will be over 65. Almost a plurality. And even given the truism that “today’s 65 is yesterday’s 55” it is still the baseline age for government funding priorities. The reality is that people are living longer and better. Forty per cent of Fortune 500 Corporations are even luring people back who have retired because they need their institutional knowledge and memory that their younger hires do not have. Most of all, seniors have the highest voter participation rate of any demographic. Politicians should start paying attention to their needs.
Summer has been called the season of discovery. Days are longer. Energy is renewed. We seem to have a new freedom. One of those freedoms is the freedom to adopt and adapt new priorities. Well, one of the last mass prejudices is ageism. One of the last civil rights to secure are those for seniors. When African-Americans were at the height of their struggle for civil rights one of their bravest initiatives was the Freedom Summer of 1964 which pushed for voter registration to secure civil rights. What we need is a Senior Summer to secure the needs of seniors as a priority on the agenda of social justice.
Anyone who has spent any of their working life or any time in the healthcare system — specifically taking care of elderly patients in chronic care facilities or even at home — are revolted by the treatment of our seniors in our CHSLDs and furious at the diminishing resources in then CLSCs. They are left pained in heart and often broken in spirit.
It is time for more dignity, respect and proper treatment for seniors, not only when they are ill or vulnerable but when they are strong and vital. First among equals in this agenda is that we finally start to raise pensions. The OECD has condemned Canada three of the past four years for having the worst social security in the industrialized west. We are the only major economy that keeps seniors pensions $9,000 below the poverty line when 40% of seniors have neither private pensions nor savings. And this shameful state of affairs is mostly due to outrageous tax rates making it nearly impossible to save while our governments wastes billions ofmour dollars on vote buying schemes under the guise of “multiculturalism” or “diversity” funding.
Seniors rights should be the leading issue on the agenda of social justice. People who have contributed all their lives are not only being deprived of the money they put into the system for their retirement, but are being neglected in their most fundamental needs. More than any aspect of our advocacy, activism and community engagement should be devoted to this.
One of our proudest moments was when we were the only media to cover the inaugural march of Jean Bottari’s Coalition for Seniors’ Rights several years ago this week. Hours after the march Bottari was kind enough to post the following on social media:”Je tiens a remercier The Suburban, le SEUL média présent à notre Marche pour le dignité des personnes vivant en CHSLD qui était représenté par son rédacteur Beryl Wajsman qui a marché avec nous.”
Our task is to guard against what Bottari wrote later on that “It seems there is interest in the cause of seniors only when there has been a tragedy that is more “sellable” than a citizens march. Let us commit to giving the cause of seniors’ dignity, justice and equality the urgency it deserves before we have a demographic explosion that will inevitably produce tragedies that will affect us all. Remember, no person,no family is immune from the damage our systems do to our seniors.