Grey Matters: It’s wrong to see older Canadians as a drain on the system

Older Couple Sitting on Bench

Wanda Morris, Postmedia News | May 31, 2017 6:30 PM ET

According to recently released Statistics Canada census data, the number of Canadians aged 65 and over is now greater than the number younger than 15.

For many, this is cause for celebration. Canadians are not only living past 65 in greater numbers, they are living to greater ages; a record number of centenarians were also reported. Others see this demographic shift as a cause for concern.

No matter what they do, it seems seniors are an open target. If they continue to work past 65 – why don’t they retire and make way for younger workers? If they retire – why do they expect younger Canadians to support them? If they are hale and hearty – how long can younger Canadians be expected to support them? If they are infirm – why are they taking up so many healthcare dollars?

Paul Kershaw of Generation Squeeze has painted a woeful picture of seniors as the anchor holding back the inter-generational fairness ship.

Granted, spending on seniors is not inconsequential. Out of a total federal budget of $300 billion, spending on seniors’ benefits is $50 billion now and forecast to grow to $60 billion by 2022. But these payments aren’t a windfall. Seniors have been paying taxes for decades. They’ve supported others in need, knowing they’ll receive support in turn.

Spending is only half the story. Seniors continue to pay income tax on their earnings, including any government transfers they receive. They draw down and spend accumulated savings, stimulating the economy and paying goods and services taxes in the process. Older Canadians also pay a disproportionate share of municipal taxes, with 40% of homes in Canada owned by those who are age 50 to 70.

Concerns about inter-generational fairness point to a real problem, but it’s not the amount governments spend on different cohorts. It’s the allegation that seniors are somehow “screwing” younger generations.

This rhetoric is not only wrong, it has the potential to do real harm. Like conversations happening (primarily) south of our border about immigrants, disparaging comments about seniors will only increase the ageism that many Canadians already experience.

There are many things we can and should do that will not only reduce federal spending on seniors, but increase the wellbeing of Canadians as we age. For example we can provide appropriate types of care closer to home to reduce healthcare spending. We can provide incentives for seniors to continue working, to increase tax revenue. And we can improve retirement security and investor protections so that fewer seniors need rely on government support.

But for starters we need to stop seeing seniors as a drain on the system and instead start seeing them as our future selves – people who have spent their lives facing challenges and doing their best to look after their families, their communities and their futures.


Article originally posted on The National Post – Click here to view article.

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