P.E.I. seniors struggling to make ends meet on fixed incomes

·4 min read
In total, seniors' benefits top out at about $35,000 a year before taxes.  (Jaison Empson/CBC - image credit)
In total, seniors' benefits top out at about $35,000 a year before taxes. (Jaison Empson/CBC - image credit)

Prince Edward Islanders have experienced the highest rate of inflation in Canada every month since March 2021. It's affecting everything — how much households are spending on food, gas for their cars, and electricity, just to name a few.

"We're not running the roads like we used to be," said Marion Arsenault of Charlottetown. "We used to fill our car with gas. Now it's $30 or $40 at a time."

As seniors, Arsenault said she and her husband are on a fixed monthly income. Their bills are paid through a combination of Old Age Security (OAS), the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) and the Canada Pension Plan (CPP).

Recently, the federal government announced a 10 per cent increase to OAS, but only for seniors over the age of 75.

That means that at most, seniors are getting monthly payments of:

  • $733 from OAS

  • $1,250 from CPP

  • $996 from GIS

Benefits top out at $35,000

In total, seniors' benefits top out at about $35,000 a year before taxes. In comparison, the market basket measurement for P.E.I. — a measure of low income based on the cost of a specific basket of goods and services — is about $44,000.

Arsenault, who's not yet 75, said the discrepancies in benefits are unfair.

Wayne Thibodeau/CBC
Wayne Thibodeau/CBC

"Why not treat all seniors the same?" she said. "Why are seniors put in two classes? That's basically what it comes down to."

"I wish we could do more, and have heard from seniors who are upset that we aren't doing more," said Charlottetown MP Sean Casey in an email to CBC News.

Casey said the Guaranteed Income Supplement was increased for people over 75 because older seniors need more help on average. According to documents he provided, 34 per cent of seniors between the ages of 65 and 74 are employed, while only 15 per cent of seniors over age 75 have a job.

Casey also said that when the basic personal amount people can deduct on their income tax increases in 2023, almost half a million seniors will pay no income tax.

Who's helping seniors?

In the meantime, seniors are trying to find assistance. One person they're turning to for support is the province's seniors navigator, Melanie Melanson.

Melanson has been in the position since January, when it was created as a one-year pilot project. She spends her days at various town halls and Access P.E.I. locations, from Tignish to Souris. She said some of the most popular programs are the Seniors Independence Initiative and the Home Heating Program offered through the Salvation Army.

I just feel that the government could be doing more for seniors. — Marion Arsenault

Melanson said there's no shortage of people looking for help and the position is an important one that should be expanded.

"I do go fairly full out," she said. "I think as this program gets more traction and more seniors are aware of the seniors navigator and more questions are coming and more information, and as well as if governments have more programs …there may need to be more than just one of me."

Department of Social Development and Housing
Department of Social Development and Housing

In an email to CBC News, the Department of Social Development and Housing confirmed it has "received budget approval to create a permanent position for the seniors navigator."

But with only one navigator for now, many seniors are on their own. And even after they find an assistance program, there still might be a delay in accessing services. An example is the Seniors Housing Program, which had 117 names on a waiting list as of August.

Sacrificing 'the things that give us joy'

The seniors navigator isn't the only person who's heard from struggling seniors.

Charlottetown-Belvedere Green MLA Hannah Bell said some seniors in her riding tell her they go to the Community Fridge in the middle of the night to avoid being seen.

Shutterstock / Lighthunter
Shutterstock / Lighthunter

Even if they aren't facing food insecurity, Bell said many older people are slashing their budgets in order to afford rent, food and heating.

"They're sacrificing the things that give them joy," she said. "It's their pets, their social life — maybe they're giving up their car or being able to go out with their friends for a meal.

"And those are not luxuries, especially if you live on your own. Those are the things that give us joy."

Arsenault, for her part, said she'll appreciate the extra few hundred dollars in her pocket once she turns 75 this fall. But she doesn't think it'll last long given the cost of everything these days.

"I just feel that the government could be doing more for seniors," she said. "I just can't understand why politicians can't see some of this stuff."