Suffering seniors - the sham of social security: Living on a pension in the Pointe

Par P.A. Sévigny le 27 avril 2015

I have asked our reporters to write stories every week about our seniors who are living lives of desperation because our pension systems took and stole. It is the most critical issue on our agenda of social justice. All levels of governments should be shamed by the fact that people who worked all their lives, contributed to the system, paid their taxes, but will not even have minimum levels of sustainability because their pensions are virtually at late 1990s levels. Administration after administration have taken their tax monies and not dealt with them in a fiduciary manner. It is a national and provincial scandal. By 2020, 30% of our population will be seniors, and nearly 40% of them have no private pensions or RRSPs. Former Finance Minister Jim Flaherty wanted to start raising Canadian pensions two years ago. We like to talk a good game about our "generous" social programs. Nonsense. Our social security for seniors is considerably below most American states. This year provincial and federal pensions combined will go up $4.08. Shame! ~ BW

At 79 years old, Kathleen Brown keeps a neat and orderly apartment with all the usual details that includes lots of pictures of both her children and her grandchildren on the refrigerator along with the local grocery-store’s Christmas holiday calendar on the kitchen wall.

“I don’t get anything done for free like other people do,” she said. “I’ve been paying bills for all of my life and I expect to keep on paying them till I’m dead and gone.”

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During an extensive interview, Brown told us that she doesn’t like to complain, but following a number of articles that recently appeared in the local press, she said that it’s time people learn how the other half live before they go around spending money on programs that won’t make much of a difference for her and her friends. As Brown manages to live on less than $1500 per month, she said that once her basic bills are paid, people like her have little more than $100 per week to buy food, clothing and whatever else they might need like soap or toothpaste and toilet paper. After a lifetime full of disciplined budgets during which she was counting pennies in order to feed her five children, Brown rattled off the list of numbers that presently define her life following a lifetime of work in many of the Point’s well-known community organizations.

“Rent costs me $570 per month, Hydro costs $86, my telephone plan (Videotron) costs $127 per month and my medicine costs $51.14 per month,” she said. “Oh, and don’t forget the hot-water tank at $12.45 per month.”

As she presently receives a total of $1482 per month (adjusted to accommodate her guaranteed income supplement), Brown said that both she and her friends are often left with less than $100 per week to pay for food and such essentials like soap, toothpaste and toilet paper.

“After awhile, it gets to the point that you can’t think of anything except where you can go in order to buy cheap toilet paper,” she said.

Brown then went on to describe what happened to both her and her children after she finally walked out on a ten year-old marriage and an abusive husband who used to beat her when he was drunk.  “I was walking down the street with all of the kids and I was trying to keep calm because I didn’t want to upset them,” said Brown. “But I still didn’t know what to do or where to go when the police stopped us and gave us the address of a shelter”

Within weeks after she first walked through the door with her children, the shelter offered Brown a job and, except for a few years in one of the district’s local factories, Brown spent the rest of her life working for assorted community groups in both the city’s Sud-Ouest and in the Point. While happy to be near her children and her grand-children, Brown did say that she was worried about the cataracts that are slowly ruining her sight and that she does want to see her son who lives out west and who is recovering from a serious operation.

“But that’s going to cost me a lot of money,” she said, “...and I don’t have that kind of money.”

While she doesn’t expect the mayor or Québec’s Premier Couillard to pay much attention to what she has to say about what it’s like to live on a pension in Montreal’s Pointe St. Charles, she does believe the Premier should know that her provincial pension will be increased by $2.58 while her federal pension is due to be increased by $1.50. “If you add them both up, that makes a total of ($4.08) four dollars and eight cents,” she said. “I would very much like the Premier to think about that.”

(As opposed to the $1500 that she expected to pay for a simple operation to remove her cataracts in a private clinic, we were pleased to inform Ms. Brown that she can have the same procedure done in the ophthalmology clinic in  Montreal’s St. Mary’s Hospital – a routine procedure that  is completely covered by the province’s medical plan.)


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