Mr. Chair and committee members, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak with you today as you begin your study. As Minister Duclos told you on Tuesday, the Government of Canada has been working to implement a seniors agenda, and that agenda involves initiatives to advance four policy objectives: improving seniors' access to affordable housing; improving the income security of seniors; promoting healthy aging and improving access to health care; and fostering social inclusion and engagement of seniors.
The work of ESDC, directly supports two of these policy objectives; namely, income security and the social inclusion and engagement of seniors.
I am here to speak to you about these, and my colleagues at the table and on video will speak to you about the other elements.
With respect to income security, in 2016-17 it's estimated that $92 billion was spent on public pensions in Canada for an estimated 7.3 million beneficiaries. ESDC is responsible for these public pensions, which are the first two pillars of the retirement income system.
The old age security program, the first pillar, is a residence-based program financed through tax revenues. Its objective is to provide a minimum level of income to seniors aged 65 and over in recognition of the contribution that they have made to Canadian society and the economy. Also under this program, the guaranteed income supplement is an income-tested benefit on top of the old age security pension that provides additional support to low-income seniors.
To support seniors' income security, the government restored the age of eligibility for old age security program benefits to age 65 from age 67. The government also increased the guaranteed income supplement by up to $947 annually for the most vulnerable seniors. This measure alone improves the financial security of close to 900,000 single seniors in Canada.
The Canada Pension Plan—which is the second pillar—is a social insurance program that is funded by the contributions of employees, employers and self-employed persons, and by the revenue earned on Canada Pension Plan investments. It covers virtually all employed and self-employed persons in Canada outside Quebec.
The government's recent enhancement to the Canada Pension Plan will improve retirement benefits for future seniors by increasing the replacement rate from one quarter to one-third of pensionable earnings and by increasing pensionable earnings by 14%.
Canada's public pension system has played a major role in reducing the incidence of low income among seniors, lowering it from 21.4% in 1980 to 4.4% in 2015.
To help extend the reach of these programs, the department negotiates social security agreements with other countries. These agreements coordinate the operation of Canada's public pension programs with comparable social security programs in other countries. These agreements help seniors who have lived or worked in Canada and other partner countries to qualify for pensions based on their affiliation to each country's program. They also help protect the income security and pension eligibility of vulnerable populations such as migrant seniors.
ESDC, through its service delivery arm, Service Canada, continually works to improve the delivery of these programs. For example, due to efforts to automatically enrol certain eligible seniors, approximately 55% of new old age security pensioners no longer need to apply for benefits, but they receive them automatically upon turning 65.
With respect to the objective of fostering the social inclusion and engagement of seniors, through the New Horizons for Seniors Program, the department invests to help ensure that seniors can benefit from, and contribute to, the quality of life in their communities.
The program has five objectives: one, to promote volunteerism among seniors; two, to foster mentoring by seniors; three, to expand awareness of all forms of elder abuse; four, to support the social participation and inclusion of seniors; and five, to provide capital assistance for community programs and projects for seniors.
The program provides over $40 million each year to small community-based projects that are led or inspired by seniors, and to large pan-Canadian projects that address issues such as elder abuse and social isolation. Since 2004, this program has funded close to 19,700 projects.
The government's plan to introduce federal accessibility legislation will also have important impacts for seniors by improving their access to services, information and communication technologies, employment, procurement, and transportation services in federally regulated sectors.
According to the 2012 Canadian Survey on Disability, 33.2% of seniors reported having a disability, compared to 10.1% of Canadians aged 15 to 64.
Extensive consultations were held over the past year to inform the planned federal legislation, and on May 29, Minister Qualtrough released the report on what was learned from these consultations.
Employment and Social Development Canada is the focal point for seniors issues across the Government of Canada. However, many departments and agencies are devoted to addressing seniors issues, including but not limited to, those here today. We work closely with our colleagues across the federal government to ensure a coordinated approach to seniors issues and support the government's seniors agenda. We also work with external partners such as experts, community organizations, provincial and territorial governments, and international organizations to advance shared interests with respect to seniors.
Mr. Chair, committee members, thank you for your attention.