The federal government claims they wish to reduce poverty among seniors and yet they persist in keeping legislation that drives surviving spouses into destitution. They choose to ignore the serious negative consequences.
Impact of social isolation
When an elderly person loses their spouse, the loneliness can lead to social isolation. The possibility of isolation becomes a certainty when the loss is compounded by the denial of a pension. That’s because the social pleasures previously enjoyed with a spouse are no longer affordable. Such severing of societal relationships often leads to:
- vulnerability to elder abuse
- insecurity and feelings of being trapped
- cognitive decline
Impact on health
Karima Velji, Past President of the Canadian Nurses Association advised us that a strong, significant correlation exists between income and health. She said:
“Low-income individuals have significantly higher rates of mortality and morbidity, regardless of how income is measured. In addition, chronic disease and health-care use are more prevalent in low-income populations. Poverty also has a compounding effect on health by exacerbating other social determinants of health such as housing, food security and social exclusion.”
Living in poverty
We spoke with surviving spouses across Canada who have been deprived of pensions. All were women and most cannot avoid the consequences of poverty. Every day they wake up to face the bleak reality of an impoverished and lonely life.
We found many common denominators:
- often they had always been homemakers and, because they chose to carry the burden of that unpaid labour, their CPP or QPP is very small.
- most cannot afford a healthcare plan and have to buy drugs without coverage. One survivor told us that she qualifies for provincial pharmacare but, ironically, it is only because she is below the poverty line.
- extreme poverty has meant very little contact with others and retirement has become a lonely and frugal life. Most cannot afford even simple outings, except for such things as church on Sundays.
- often they are forced to rely on their children, which brings a unique emotional strain for people who have always taken pride in being independent.
- debts pile up and some were forced to sell their homes in order to stay afloat.
- these surviving spouses are the antithesis of “gold diggers”. Most were in the “after 60” or “after retirement” relationship for a very long time - some as long as 30 years.
- some also carried the extra burden of being a caregiver. We spoke to one surviving spouse who cared for her husband and his mother for 20 years.