'Can’t afford to live': Vernon senior helping to organize pension reform protest | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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'Can’t afford to live': Vernon senior helping to organize pension reform protest

Vernon resident Carole Fawcett is a freelance writer and retired councillor behind the Seniors Tin Cup Movement.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/ Seniors Tin Cup Movement

A senior in Vernon is fed up with living on the financial brink trying to make ends meet on a fixed retirement income, and she’s not alone.

Like so many seniors, Carole Fawcett can’t afford to go out much or buy anything. She doesn’t drive as often as she used to because she can’t afford the fuel and she has eliminated eating out with friends, among many other sacrifices.

“You have to be very careful anytime you have to spend money, you’re careful where you buy and you double check prices,” she said. “You might have to eliminate something from your diet. I shop at dollar stores and second-hand stores and I don’t go out anywhere. On rare occasions I’ll buy a blouse or something.”

Rising inflation is increasing pressure on those with fixed incomes and this includes seniors, many of whom are struggling to survive on a combined income from their Canadian pension plan, old age security benefits and guaranteed income supplement that amounts to roughly $17,000 to $18,000 per year, far below the poverty line.

Fawcett — a freelance writer and retired councillor — is working to change that.

“Most seniors can’t afford to go anywhere and many are working part time at places like Walmart to supplement their pension because they can’t afford to live.”

Fawcett, alongside fellow organizer Sharon Elliot in Vancouver, is rallying seniors in the province and country to protest at the same time in March to demand politicians increase pensions for seniors in a movement called The Seniors Tin Cup.

They aren’t asking for much.

“I’d like senior’s pensions to be brought up to the poverty level in Canada, it’s a very sad thing to have to say,” Fawcett said. “We’re not asking for charity, we’re asking for a change, we need pension reform.”

So far, groups in Ladysmith, Campbell River, Vancouver, Terrace, Vernon and Fort Nelson are preparing to march, although a date hasn’t been announced yet.

“We’re trying to form different groups in different cities to gain attention and when we do our demonstration everyone across the province will be demonstrating at the same time,” she said.

The movement couldn’t come at a more precarious time.

Seniors are one of the biggest cohorts facing homelessness, with many living on the financial brink after working for decades. For many seniors the cost of rent has risen to more than the benefits coming in and they are using up savings or inheritance money to stay afloat. 

An aging population and rising costs of living, along with inadequate incomes for seniors is creating a housing crisis with the average senior spending 78% of their income on rent, according to a report by United Way BC published in November.

READ MORE: Sales and prices up in Kamloops, Okanagan real estate markets

The housing available with subsidized rent for seniors is declining along with low-cost private options due to evictions and renovictions, redevelopment and owners renting their property seasonally.

Almost 20% of seniors are considered at risk of homelessness in BC, according to the United Way, and there's a growing number of seniors living in substandard or unsafe housing. An increasing number of seniors in their 60s and 70s find themselves on the verge of homelessness for the first time in their lives.

“A lot of people say to me they didn’t know they wouldn’t be able to live on a pension,” Fawcett said. “Life happens, it’s unpredictable. There are health issues, divorce, lots of things that happen. You can lose your home in a fire or flood, some are doing reverse mortgages.

“I know of a senior living in her car and a friend who will lose her health insurance from a company she’s paid into for four decades when she turns 80. There are so many stories.”

READ MORE: HOUSING CRISIS: Future uncertain for Kamloops senior living on old age pension

The Seniors Tin Cup Movement was named after the idea seniors will be standing on corners holding tin cups in order to survive.

Fawcett said seniors are being ignored and many are embarrassed to admit they are struggling financially.

“We are a silent generation that went from being very outspoken out demonstrating for change like helping stop nuclear development and changing women’s rights. We have become quiet but now we’re getting loud, we deserve a living pension.”

Go here for more information or to join the Seniors Tin Cup Movement.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Shannon Ainslie or call 250-819-6089 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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