EDITORIAL: Seniors make civic life better

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The NWT Seniors’ Society put the cost of being a senior in the territory on the map last week with the release of its first report called, A Living Income for Seniors in the Northwest Territories.

The report highlights the high cost of living in the North for those over the age of 60. The report also notes the territory’s population is aging.

Currently at 12 per cent, the number of people 60 or older is expected to grow to 20 per cent by 2035. The territory could be in for a dire situation should seniors continue to struggle with high living costs over the next decade.

The new federal budget offers some relief to seniors who choose to remain at work, increasing the amount they can earn to $5,000 a year from $3,500 before the government starts rolling back guaranteed income benefits for seniors. And though this is good news for working seniors, it does not go far enough for seniors living in the North.

Based on the information in the living income report, single seniors living in larger NWT communities who rent their homes – often at market prices – are living on an average income of just over $30,000, which is almost $3,000 less than what is required annually to pay the bills. That’s a deficit of around $250 a month, which can mean a huge difference to a person living on a fixed income.

When a senior must choose between paying rent or purchasing food and medication – or face the possibility of losing a rental unit should that “income gap” become too great to bear the expense of maintaining a home – more needs to be done to ensure older people can get by.

Based on the NWT Bureau of Statistics, in 2016 the number of seniors 65 years and over living on low-income sits at 6.9 per cent in Yellowknife.

Not being able to afford basic needs such as food, medications or shelter directly affects a person’s health and mental well-being and puts a further strain on the territory’s health-care system.

Public programs that provide income in old age, including the Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security, the Guaranteed Income Supplement and the increase to the NWT Senior Citizen Supplementary Benefit have brought down the number seniors living in poverty in the territory.

But unlike younger generations, seniors typically have few options to earn money. The benefits they receive must keep up with the cost of living, otherwise they will be forced to leave.

Back in Yellowknife’s boom and bust days, that’s what older people did when their working years were done. This made building communities difficult. Younger generations were less likely to stay without grandparents to help with the children. With fewer families putting down roots, civic life suffered and governments were less likelihood to think long-term and about quality of life.

This is changing and and that is a good thing, not to mention that for every senior that stays, the territory receives about $30,000 in per capita funding from the federal government.

We are way past excusing impoverished seniors as an individual fault or a moral failing. Seniors are someone’s mother, father, sister or brother and deserve the dignity of aging comfortably across the territory that many of today’s seniors helped build.