I am very pleased to present to you the report of the seniors consultation that I recently organized in my riding. This report comes from two consultations that took place on October 26, 2017 at the Pauline-Charron Center and at the Gloucester 50+ Centre. You will find, in these pages, the essential information collected during these sessions and some of the many suggestions residents came up with during the consultations.
The idea of organizing this consultation came to me as I was campaigning in Ottawa-Vanier several months ago. During my conversations with residents, I had the opportunity to hear from many of you who raised your concerns.
Challenges facing seniors are becoming more complex as recent data released by Statistics Canada points to the reality that Canada’s demographic landscape is undergoing a significant transformation. For the first time in our history, the population of people aged 65 and over surpasses those aged 14 and under. Our government is committed to being well prepared for the effects of this transformation in order to maintain a good quality of life for Canadians as they age. I firmly believe that it is essential that we provide for those who, for a long time, have provided for us. This is part of our government’s commitment to evidence-based policy-making and my work on the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.
I would like to thank everyone in my riding that has participated in these consultations and those who have raised their specific concerns directly with me. Your input is greatly appreciated as it allows me to have a stronger understanding of the challenges affecting people in my riding. Thanks also to the two community centres that have helped me in hosting these sessions.
It is important for me to hear from you and I invite you to continue to share your thoughts and opinions. You can always reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mona Fortier – Députée d’Ottawa–Vanier Member of Parliament
This report is divided into the four major themes of the discussion. Participants gathered together in groups and discussed a wide range of questions to gain a strong understanding of the issue that were important to them. As a shared responsibility, some points of discussion are provincial and municipal in nature. However, I thought it would be constructive to add them to this report as they allow us to better understand the broader context of the concerns that were raised.
What can be done to help seniors access affordable housing?
Affordable housing was a theme that elicited strong reaction from participants, with the majority believing that it was critical for seniors to stay in their home as long as possible, while understanding this creates unique physical and social challenges. Participants felt that it is critical. Direct support through home renovation credits and investments in accessible transit are critical to maintaining a strong social life while remaining in one’s home.
The affordability of residential living was also a concern, specifically when it came to private assisted or independent living facilities. Participants voiced concerns with regard to the amount of affordable, safe and desirable assisted living facilities and specifically indicated they would like to see care facilities have more flexibility with regard to tenancy lengths and services provided – specifically the costs associated with meals, and homecare visits and the length of tenancy agreements.
Within the local context, many were especially concerned with the costs associated with housing in the national capital region. This provides for a unique and concerning dilemma for seniors where a move to a more affordable town or city could possibly compromise personal safety or comfort.
Low-income seniors and senior women living alone are populations with high incidences of core housing need. About a third of households that live in community housing are seniors. Senior women living alone are more likely than senior men to live in core housing need.National Housing Strategy 2017Employment and Social Development Canada
As recent abusive issues in the Ottawa region were top of mind, participants also felt it is critical to establish a governmental oversight body for care residences, assisted living facilities, and nursing and long term care homes to enforce basic care and quality standards and reduce the instances of elder abuse.
Participants felt that the government should invest in increased inventory of subsidized residences for seniors specifically. A portable rent subsidy was seen as a possibility to provide a market based incentive for landlords and care facilities to create more space.
To help seniors age more easily?
For those who remain in their homes, social isolation is a significant challenge and is unfortunately all too common these days. Several participants mentioned that remaining in their homes was their preference as they understood it to be more affordable than other options.
Some also discussed that while they felt they could not safely stay in their homes, the high cost of assisted living does not offer this as an option. Living alone in one’s residence provides a unique social inclusion challenge for seniors. Direct support for home visits or outings were suggested as a means to better support seniors’ mental and physical health.
Since the cost is high, some people will choose not to leave their homes, which can lead to social isolation. Many mentioned that it is still best to stay at home to save money. That being said, there is often a shortage of social activities offered in the housing complexes which could be by home-based activities led by volunteers or mobile teams who go from building to building to offer a recreation service.
The issue of social isolation was one that was raised a number of times across the various themes. It was suggested that any program or service maintain a social inclusion lens to it. This is an important but often overlooked aspect of well-being that certainly affects physical and mental health. Social inclusion amongst those living with age-related illnesses can be especially difficult. Increased investment in services and programs that address those with a high-level of need would support some of our most at- risk seniors who may be living alone or with very limited resources. A study conducted in 2011 on behalf of the Vanier Community Services Center reaffirmed these suggestions that supporting residents to socialize outside of their house would benefit their mental and physical health greatly.
Lastly, some suggested increased availability of mixed use residences where a couple is able to have differing levels of support and care while remaining together in order to ensure safety and security. This is especially important in the latter years of retirement when couples are too often separated, resulting in depression and anxiety.
To ensure that seniors can sell their homes more easily and stay financially independent?
When seniors make the decision they can no longer live independently in their home, home sales often provide a new and unfamiliar challenge. Many expressed a desire to sell to a family member, but current market values make it difficult for a child or grandchild to affordably purchase a residence.
Furthermore, many expressed concern with the legal challenges faced in selling a home, specifically the taxes and regulations at all three levels of government that a convoluted, cumbersome and expensive process.
What are the best ways the government can help seniors, including those living in poverty?
Some residents felt very concerned that their savings properly serve them as the cost-of-living increases and seniors are living longer. Some suggested that the Guaranteed Income Supplement be increased or indexed to reflect this change in order to provide financial security for a longer period of time. Others also believed that the Canada Pension Plan should be reformed in order to address income shortfall for seniors.
Related, seniors mentioned that they find filing annual tax returns a difficult and confusing exercise. Many mentioned that they depend on tax clinics offered at a number of social services organizations or using private tax accountants to help them file their taxes. It was also suggested that the feasibility of filing taxes on a bi-annual basis be examined for seniors, as their circumstances very rarely substantially change on a year-to-year basis.
Supplementary health costs – such as drugs and medical equipment – are becoming more expensive and many seniors do not have supplementary insurance that cover these costs. Tax credits aimed at alleviating some of the financial hardship of these costs are often considered too high for seniors. Some suggested that these credits be reformed to better support low-income seniors who may struggle to pay for medical and pharmaceutical necessities.
Access to information and services
What can be done to better use technology to provide services or information?
As the Government of Canada increasingly digitizes its services through online resources, a number of concerns were raised by seniors as to the unintended consequences for individuals who are less comfortable with providing personal information online, or who may not have the technological skills to properly find the resources they need.
Participants made it clear that the Government of Canada must ensure that services offered online are also available in paper. Specifically, filing taxes or applying for programs directed at supporting seniors must be made available and advertised in non-digital forms to ensure the widespread use of these services.
Another challenge for seniors is the relative high cost of digital service and equipment, which is a barrier for many seniors to access online resources. Lastly, participants raised concerns that rural locations do not have the same standard of Internet service or mobile service as people in the city. Participants suggested programs that provided specific products for seniors, at a fair-market price as a way to minimize the likelihood of seniors not having the resources they need.
Are there any problems related to access to services in both official languages?
Receiving services in French remains a significant challenge for the riding’s francophone population. Individuals mentioned that they struggle to receive basic services such as bills, in their first language. This was also true of healthcare and social service programs offered in Ottawa, where there is a desire to receive services in their mother tongue. Seniors who participated in the French language session mentioned that they often feel as if they do not have the resources or means to contact the appropriate department or person to receive their services in French.
These challenges are not solely public or federal in nature and affect private organizations as well as public institutions, however many suggested that increased investment from the Federal Government would help support some of the added costs of ensuring there are adequate resources dedicated to both official languages.
Are there any programs that seniors have difficulty accessing?
Many participants suggested there are significant challenges accessing services from the government such as Service Canada in a timely and effective manner. With the large number of programs and services offered through Service Canada for retirees, this conclusion did not come as a complete surprise.
Participants however were very clear that organizations such as Ottawa’s Council on Aging support many seniors and are especially important for vulnerable seniors. In this respect, it was concluded that funding for this type of organization is critical for Ottawa-Vanier’s seniors. Many of those who voiced frustration with dealing directly with government services supported this recommendation and suggested that the ability to speak with someone on the phone often answered their questions quickly and effectively. This is especially important for seniors as they age and may suffer from dementia or other memory loss challenges. They may need to receive the information on multiple occasions, or are more easily confused by complicated automated information systems.
Financial barriers to participation in social activities were raised both in these discussions and that of financial security. Many felt that more programs for seniors to attend or participate free of charge are required. Many believed that their fixed incomes prevented them from participating in activities with their friends that they would have enjoyed. Ensuring that seniors have access to arts, culture and community events tailored to their individual interests and that appreciate their possible limitations is critical for our seniors’ community.
Finally, many worried about the number of telephone, door-to-door and internet scams directed specifically at Ottawa’s seniors. They mentioned that it is often difficult to find information as to what a legitimate interaction is and what a scam is. With this in mind, it is important the Government of Canada outline how and when they will contact citizens to ensure that seniors are not targeted by scammers.
Are there many places where seniors have difficulty accessing? What can be done to improve this?
Physical access remains a barrier for many seniors when accessing services. As such many suggested that the Government of Canada, through Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC), review buildings for conformity to best practices. It was understood that many buildings used by the Government of Canada are controlled by private corporations, however many thought that a leadership role could be played by investing in these buildings to ensure physical access is maintained for all.
Addressing these concerns and those of able-bodied seniors requires added investments. Many participants were very pleased with the funds specifically allocated for home care as part of the Federal-Provincial Health Accord.
As Canadians age, it is important that they have the services to ensure that they do so safely and with dignity. Retirees have dedicated their careers at working to help our country prosper and our government is committed to supporting their later years through investments in affordable housing, homecare and through direct financial supports. While we continue to work hard to this end, there is always more to be done.
During the course of these consultations, I heard directly from local residents on their challenges and my team and I have worked since to identify opportunities to better support their needs. I am committed to working tirelessly for all residents and I feel that these consultations were a fantastic step in understanding the efforts that are needed.
Over the course of the day, we received excellent information from the participants. Housing support and financial security were the most popular of the issues discussed, however it was clear that social inclusion for seniors remains an important part of their daily concerns.
I believe it is important that we, as a government, continue to invest and find ways to support programs and services that provide seniors the opportunity to maintain strong social relationships. Improved access to activities and facilities will improve the availability of these important programs.
I am grateful to all those who came and expressed their opinions and feedback. Hearing from residents has provided me the distinct opportunity to learn from the unique situations seniors face. I am happy to see that so many people have taken their time to offer solutions and constructive comments.
If you have questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact my office. My team will be happy to answer your questions and assist you as it can. If you believe there is an initiative or idea that was missed in these discussions, please feel free to contact me.
© 2019 Mona Fortier. All rights reserved.