The COVID-19 pandemic has focused public attention on the health, well-being, and increased vulnerability of seniors, but too many of Toronto’s seniors were already struggling before the pandemic due to income and housing challenges, says a report released today. The report’s authors call on all three levels of government to take urgent action against senior poverty.
Senior Poverty & Inequity: The Toronto Experience, co-authored by Social Planning Toronto and Well Living House, draws on data from the 2016 Census and the Indigenous-led Our Health Counts Toronto research study to paint a disturbing picture of senior poverty in our city, particularly among Indigenous, racialized, and immigrant seniors.
Canada’s retirement income security system has been praised for reducing senior poverty, especially for senior women, but this important achievement should not obscure current realities, where gaps in the system are leaving many Toronto seniors behind, particularly those who are Indigenous, racialized, and immigrants.
With more than one in six seniors living in poverty, Toronto has the third-highest rate of senior poverty among large urban centres in Canada (behind only Montreal and Vancouver). Immigrant seniors are twice as likely to live in poverty than non-immigrant seniors, and racialized seniors are twice as likely to live in poverty than non-racialized seniors. The data show staggering levels of poverty for some racialized groups – just over 45% of Korean and West Asian seniors, and almost 38% of Arab seniors.
Shamefully, over 90% of Indigenous peoples 55 and older in Toronto experience poverty. Colonization and systemic racism have eroded power, social structures, and Indigenous community resources over generations. The result is poverty, chronic unemployment, poor health outcomes, and high levels of unstable housing for Indigenous peoples from childhood through to their senior years.
Well before the pandemic, Toronto tenants were grappling with an affordable housing crisis, and senior tenants were not excluded. Toronto is the core housing need capital of Canada for seniors who rent, with over half of senior tenant household in core housing need. Sixty percent of senior tenant households spend 30% or more of their income on housing costs, above the threshold considered affordable in Canada, and one in five spend 50% or more, placing them at heightened risk of homelessness. This situation is exacerbated by the recent passing of Bill 184, Protecting Tenants and Strengthening Community Housing Act — which will fast-track the eviction process now that the ban on evictions has just been lifted.
In the midst of a pandemic that presents a great risk to the lives and well-being of seniors, we must ensure that every senior, every person, has a safe, decent, and affordable place to live. Furthermore, every Torontonian should be able to age comfortably and with dignity. Governments must take urgent action to support seniors during the pandemic, and plan for a recovery that addresses the deep inequities among certain groups of seniors.
The report underscores the need for all three levels of government to implement concrete solutions to address senior poverty, guided by 16 policy directions related to income support, eviction prevention, affordable housing, and direct support to Indigenous seniors.
Well Living House is an action research centre for Indigenous infants, children, and their families' health and well-being. Our focus is on gathering, using, sharing, and protecting Indigenous health and well-being knowledge and practices. We draw on both Indigenous and public health knowledge to inform cutting edge scholarship and best practices. At the heart is an aspiration to be a place where Indigenous people can gather, understand, and share what it means to be a healthy child, family, and community – building a “Well Living House”.
For more information, visit welllivinghouse.com.