Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour.
I begin by thanking the member for London—Fanshawe for introducing this very important motion for us to discuss in the House today. Contrary to what other members have said, New Democrats do have a plan for poverty reduction. That was Bill C-545, An Act to Eliminate Poverty in Canada introduced in June 2010. It laid out a detailed strategy for poverty elimination in the country, and I was pleased to reintroduce that bill today.
I again want to acknowledge the very good work that Tony Martin, the former member for Sault Ste. Marie, did.
As well, New Democrats have also had other plans around helping people living in poverty. One was the former Bill C-304, An Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians introduced by the member for Vancouver East.
Contrary to what we have heard in the House, New Democrats do have plans around poverty reduction.
I want to remind the House, because we have had a bit of a break, about what we are speaking about today. The New Democrat opposition day motion states:
That, in the opinion of this House, ending seniors' poverty in Canada is fiscally feasible, and, therefore, the House calls on the government to take immediate steps to increase the Guaranteed Income Supplement sufficiently to achieve that goal.
There has been much talk so far today about the 2011 budget. Contrary to what members of the government have said, I can assure members that many New Democrats have read that budget as have many members of the public.
I will quote a couple of things from a news release from Campaign 2000 dated June 6, 2011. This reflects in part why New Democrats do not want to support that budget.
Gerda Kaegi of the Canadian Pensioners Concerned said, “The one measure to address poverty among seniors' is paltry”. The release goes on to say:
The $50 monthly increase to the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors is only available to those on the very least income. This proposed change is about one-third of what is needed to bring single seniors – who are mostly women - out of poverty.
Further on in the news release it says:
This budget does little to bolster the tattered safety net that has left Canadians in economic insecurity. Aboriginal people, sole support mothers, recent immigrants, racialized groups, and people with disabilities face greater risks. At the same time, inequality between the rich and the poor in Canada has grown more than in any other OECD country (except Germany).
That comment was by Dennis Howlett of Make Poverty History.
I only have 10 minutes, so unfortunately I cannot go through all the reasons why New Democrats would not support the budget.
I want to turn briefly to a report “Federal Poverty Reduction Plan: Working in Partnership Towards Reducing Poverty in Canada ”from November 2010. This was an extensive piece of work that looked at the state of poverty reduction plans in the country and made numerous recommendations. I want to quote a couple of statistics out of this, and we are talking about seniors today.
The GIS is an ideal means of reducing poverty among seniors because it targets those with a low income, particularly seniors living alone. In 2007, seniors living alone represented 28% of all seniors, but 60% of GIS recipients and 82% of seniors living below the LICOs. A senior living alone with no income other than the maximum OAS and GIS benefits would receive combined benefits of about $14,033 (January 2010 rates), which is below the LICOs for 2008 (the latest available) for a person living alone in an urban centre with a population of 30,000 or more.
The people who are receiving GIS and OAS are the poorest of the poor of the seniors and often between OAS and GIS that is pretty much all they have for an income.
This article goes on.
The member for London—Fanshawe ably outlined all of the reasons why the House should unanimously support the New Democrat motion, but I want to raise another issue that has not been raised.
Again, in this report it says that other witnesses spoke about the lack of awareness of the GIS. I want to turn briefly to the National Advisory Council on Aging, “Aging in Poverty in Canada: Seniors on the Margins”. It pointed out a couple of serious problems.
First, we have a program that is inadequate, but what we actually know is that many seniors are not accessing this already inadequate program. It says in this report that as no reliable statistics existed on under-subscription or late renewals, the National Council on Aging had research carried out in the summer of 2004 to assess the situation.
This research yielded a clear picture of under-subscription to the OAS and the Canada pension plan, revealing that large numbers of elderly seniors have not applied for these programs.
For a variety of reasons, seniors simply do not apply for these programs. New Democrats have argued that they should just be incorporated into a system like the income tax system, so that seniors at the age of 65 would not have to apply. They would automatically be considered.
Under OAS, the NACA report says about 50,000 have not applied and under GIS about 300,000 have not applied. Under CPP retirement pension about 55,000 have not applied. There is no estimate available for those who have not applied for disability benefits or survivor benefits. Many New Democrats have done CPP, disability and survivor benefit workshops in their ridings because many Canadians are simply not aware that they are entitled to those benefits.
This article goes on to say:
The sums in question are considerable. For example, the 50,000 seniors who are eligible for OAS but do not apply sustain a total income loss of $250 million a year.
That is $250 million that is not going back into our communities. When seniors apply for these benefits, they spend the money on food, on shelter, and minimal living expenses, which is all money that comes back into our communities.
The article goes on to say:
It is more often women, particularly elderly women, who fail to apply for the GIS – a group that is most at risk of living in poverty. It is worth noting that seniors who are entitled to the GIS but who do not apply are deprived not only of their GIS income, but also of all the other benefits provided through provincial and territorial programs that use the GIS as an eligibility criterion.
Not only is it affecting their GIS, but it is affecting some of their other provincial benefits. That is why it is so important that we look at a system that makes it far easier for seniors to access these benefits.
I know we are talking about the GIS, but I want to talk briefly about CPP because there is another huge injustice built into this program.
Lateness in applying for CPP benefits causes serious prejudice. Currently, a person who is late applying for his or her pension under the CPP is only entitled to 11 months of retroactive benefits. The case of a woman named Isabel, age 90, is cited. She discovers that she has been entitled to the CPP survivor benefit for the past 15 years but did not know it. Her husband Jim died at the age of 83 without ever drawing a pension. Her late application means she is entitled to retroactive benefits for a mere 11 months, even though her husband contributed to the plan while he was working and the money was his due and hers. That is a very sad statement. This is another case of late renewal.
In July year after year GIS and allowance recipients must renew their application for benefits by filling out an income tax declaration or a renewal form. Every year close to 100,000 seniors fail to renew their application on time. At present, they are sent a reminder with an enclosed renewal application form. If they fail to respond, they are temporarily excluded from the program and do not receive their benefits for July or the following month until the application for renewal is completed.
The report goes on to talk about 105,000 seniors who did not receive their GIS cheque and more than 9,000 who did not receive their allowance benefits because they had not completed their renewal on time. For many seniors this is an issue of low literacy, little or no knowledge of the programs, language barriers, and sometimes there are mental health issues. We need to make it as easy as possible for seniors.
I will just make a little note on this. A person receiving GIS benefits can lose up to $561 each month. So it is a significant amount of money for people who are living in poverty.
It is unfortunate that my time is up because I wanted to talk about hunger count and the food banks, and the fact that we are seeing an increasing number of seniors using food banks. The 2010 report indicated that the number of seniors helped by food banks grew this year from 5.5% of adults in 2008-09 to 7.2% in 2010. In some provinces, like Ontario, it was 12% and in Manitoba it was 15%. We are seeing some serious problems in our country. Seniors are being forced into using food banks just to keep food on their tables.
I would urge all members of the House to support the motion put forward by the member for London—Fanshawe. This is a small step in the right direction to help lift seniors out of poverty.