Mr. Speaker, I am sharing my time today with my colleague from Burnaby—Douglas.
Senior women face harsh realities upon retirement. The poverty rate for senior women is almost double the poverty rate for senior men. In particular, unattached senior women remain very vulnerable. They make up 60% of seniors living below the poverty line.
In 2003, according to a Government of Canada report, 154,000 unattached senior women lived in poverty. The guaranteed income supplement, or GIS, which is supposed to help, forces many seniors, especially those unattached, into poverty. In its own report, the Government of Canada states that in 2003 an unattached person only received old age security and GIS at a rate of $12,031 a year. That is not enough money to live on, especially in our cities, which have an increasingly higher cost of living.
Alarming this same study maintains that many Canadians are not prepared for retirement. One-third of Canadians between the ages of 45 and 59 feel that they are not prepared financially for retirement. Furthermore, these concerns are more prevalent among women, those widowed, separated or divorced, recent immigrants, tenants, those without private pension coverage and not surprisingly, women with low wages.
How do our mothers and grandmothers end up living in poverty? There are many reasons. Women's unpaid work makes their risk of poverty higher and results in less access to private pensions. Older women tend to have lower incomes because they live longer, which leaves them at greater of using up their savings as time goes by.
Immigrant women are particularly vulnerable. Many over the age of 65, who have lived in Canada for less than 10 years, are without any income at all. Senior women receiving smaller pension incomes because of the wage difference between men and women are also at risk. Most divorced women do not claim a portion of their former spouse's pension even though they are entitled to it. Many retirement plans do not compensate for absences to raise children or look after sick relatives, absences are generally taken by women.
The ratio of male to female earnings tells a story of persistent systemic inequality between male and female incomes, whether from employment or pensions. Women are concentrated in low wage and part time jobs where there is rarely pensions available.
However, women who are able to work are still at a disadvantage. Women in our country work for about 75% of their potential working years, whereas men work 94%. Women consequently have less opportunity to save for their pension. More men than women save through RRSPs because men tend to make more money and are thus able to put more money aside for retirement.
It is very important to emphasize that these senior women living in poverty did not end up there the day they retired. It is the poverty in their youth or the near poverty that prevented them from setting aside money for retirement that is the real source, the genesis, of this problem.
With the last several years or Liberals cutting away at our social safety net, our working poor are at risk of being left in poverty when they retire. The Conservative government has not proposed anything that will truly help alleviate poverty in our country.
One of the key issues raised this week by the Canadian Labour Congress was that child care and specifically child care spaces were needed to help women stay in or get back into the workforce. This is critical for the senior women of the future. Safe, affordable, not for profit child care would provide them the opportunity to work and even pay into a pension, and thus enable them to retire with a pension that actually provides the resources they need and deserve.
We have all heard the Conservative government touting its true choice in child care, but it does not create a single child care space. It is obvious that the plan is to give a tax credit to those families rich enough to have one parent stay at home. These women, and, yes, they are mostly women, are not paid for their labour in raising a family.
I know many women would say that they do it out of love and do not want the money. However, the material point is that these women do not receive remuneration for their hard work and are not contributing to CPP. Therefore, they cannot collect any funds even though they have worked hard and faithfully to raise children. They too could be at risk in their retirement.
Senior women, whose spouses pass away, face a reduction in their partner's private pension and CPP, a deduction of 40%. This is problematic. Some women may be unable to afford to maintain their standard of living. Expenses for a single person are about 70% of the living expenses for a couple. This has the potential to drive women into poverty, as many senior women depend on their spouses' pension. It is an important part of an adequate income.
Many seniors do not realize what benefits are available to them. Women in particular are three times more likely than men to be late applying for CPP benefits. If they are late in their application, they are entitled to only 11 months of retroactive benefits. One should not be financially penalized for not having knowledge or access to information. In Quebec the retroactive grace period for benefits is five years. This makes far more sense if we are serious about care for seniors.
Equally important, the first step to ending poverty for senior men and women is access to safe, affordable housing. If seniors are spending the majority of their income on their place of residence, this leaves little money for food, medication and other necessities, thus forcing them into a cycle of poverty.
In 2001 more than half of seniors living on their own in rental accommodations were paying more than 30% of their income for housing. In particular, single women were more likely to be living in these substandard conditions. If housing costs are tied to their income level and not to market value, then they have a chance to break out of poverty and live in dignity.
The cost of housing across Canada is on the rise. This year alone housing costs are up by 13%. With no new affordable housing money in the foreseeable future, many Canadians, especially senior Canadians, run the risk of becoming house poor. When housing costs are greater than 30% of their income, they are indeed condemned to live a life below the poverty line.
Previous Liberal governments allocated a substantial amount of money to the provinces and territories, about $474 million for housing. Much of that money was not spent because it had to be matched by the provinces and territories. The agreements were also so convoluted that progress was nearly impossible. Clearly, the Liberals were not serious about creating affordable housing.
The decisions by the former federal government to stop funding of new social housing in 1993 and then to transfer the administration of most existing federal social housing programs to the provinces and territories in 1996 were also key factors in the steady growth of housing insecurity during the 1990s. Housing experts have drawn a direct connection between the withdrawal of the federal government from housing programs in the 1990s compounded by significant cuts in provincial housing budgets to the growing homelessness disaster and affordable housing crisis.
To further compound this, the present Conservative government made no commitment to affordable housing in its recent budget. In fact, Conservatives took the NDP Bill C-48 money and made a one-time payment. The intent of the NDP balanced budget was that the $1.6 billion be available each year for affordable housing. At a time when our senior population is increasing, there will be no money to address the housing crisis many face.
Safe, affordable and accessible housing is the first step in ensuring that our seniors will live in dignity. Our senior women need access to pension dollars whether they work or stay at home to raise a family. Our mothers, our grandmothers, our fathers, our grandfathers, they all deserve this, the right to live in dignity, the right to escape poverty.
I encourage all parties to support the NDP motion that will ensure seniors across Canada have the respect that they so richly deserve.