HUMA Committee Report
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Bryan May, M.P.
Chair, Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities
House of Commons
Dear Mr. May:
Pursuant to Standing Order 109 of the House of Commons, I am pleased to respond on behalf of the Government of Canada to the recommendations made by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities (HUMA) in its report entitled Advancing Inclusion and Quality of Life for Seniors, tabled in the House of Commons on March 29, 2018.
Our Government thanks the members of the Standing Committee for their valuable study of how the Government can support vulnerable seniors today while preparing for the diverse and growing seniors’ population of tomorrow. Our Government would also like to thank Mr. Marc Serré, Member of Parliament for Nickel Belt, for giving notice of Motion M-106 (a Motion to Develop a National Seniors Strategy), which the Government supported and which led to this important study.
This report will inform future government policy, programs, and service delivery decisions so that they help advance the social and economic inclusion of seniors. Our Government also thanks the many witnesses and those who provided written submissions, including government officials, community advocates, professional associations, researchers, academics, front-line service providers, and most importantly seniors themselves.
In my role as Minister responsible for Seniors, I have had the opportunity to engage with academics, practitioners, representatives of seniors organizations and seniors themselves, to seek their views and help inform our Government’s future priorities with respect to seniors issues. While there is consensus that seniors share many common issues, there is also recognition that policies and programs should reflect the diversity of needs within the seniors’ population. Many of the Committee’s recommendations strengthen and complement what was heard during these consultations and align with many of the actions our Government has taken to advance the inclusion and quality of life for Canadian seniors.
Seniors are not a homogenous group. The seniors population is diverse from many perspectives, including age, gender, culture, and health and socio-economic status. Our Government is committed to seniors issues and has been proactive in taking action that has had and will have significant benefits for seniors. Notably, our Government has improved seniors’ income security and has introduced measures to improve access to affordable housing and health care for seniors. These initiatives are mindful of the diversity of seniors, and we will continue to take a proactive approach to ensure that our policies and programs benefitting seniors continue to pursue and achieve further equity.
Witnesses to the Committee noted that providing adequate income to vulnerable seniors is a complex challenge. The Committee’s recommendations relate to: strengthening existing federal income support programs for vulnerable seniors; incentivizing labour force participation for those who are able and want to continue working; and protecting seniors from financial abuse.
Our Government has already taken steps to strengthen Canadians’ income security, including seniors. The Old Age Security program has undertaken measures that will continue to support vulnerable seniors – such as cancelling the increase in the age of eligibility so that vulnerable 65 and 66 year olds would not fall into poverty and increasing the Guaranteed Income Supplement for the lowest-income single seniors. The latter provides assistance to close to 900,000 low-income seniors, 70% of whom are women. It is estimated that this Guaranteed Income Supplement increase lifted 13,000 seniors out of poverty, and reduced the depth of poverty for the remaining single Guaranteed Income Supplement recipients by an average of $728, or 23%. Our Government also closely monitors the value of pensions which are indexed to prices. Quarterly indexation of OAS benefits, along with periodic ad hoc increases (e.g. the July 2016 increase in the GIS for single seniors) helps ensure that, over time, seniors maintain or improve their standard of living. In addition seniors who work are supported through the $3,500 Guaranteed Income Supplement earnings exemption and a voluntary deferral provision for those who choose to delay their Old Age Security pension.
To assist today’s working Canadians – the seniors of tomorrow – many of whom are at risk of not saving enough for retirement, our Government has worked with its provincial partners to strengthen the Canada Pension Plan. This enhancement to the Canada Pension Plan will be phased in, as of 2019, with each year of additional contributions resulting in increased benefits. The Canada Pension Plan enhancement will boost how much working Canadians will get from the Canada Pension Plan—from one-quarter of their eligible earnings to one-third, and will also increase the limit on pensionable earnings by 14 percent. Strengthening the Canada Pension Plan aims to help Canadians achieve their goal of a safe, secure and dignified retirement.
To ensure all seniors are aware of the benefits to which they are entitled, our Government is modernizing the Old Age Security program by introducing automatic enrolment processes for Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement, and streamlining the Old Age Security application process. In April 2017, the Targeted Outreach for Seniors’ Project was launched to increase awareness of the Old Age Security program, including the Guaranteed Income Supplement. Information about the Old Age Security pension is currently provided to Canadians by Service Canada through multiple channels such as in-person service, Canada.ca website, and 1 800 0-Canada. In addition, existing outreach efforts are expanding to target all Indigenous and northern communities, ensuring access to a full range of benefits and services for Indigenous people, including seniors, in the communities where they live. The Canada Revenue Agency has invested in hiring more phone agents, to improve the accessibility of its telephone service and strengthen its telephone enquiries service for seniors and all Canadians and has proposed additional funding for the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program to provide additional “year-round” benefit clinics and more outreach activities to vulnerable population segments, including seniors.
Our Government is also pursuing work to protect seniors from financial abuse, such as implementing the National Strategy for Financial Literacy, including phase 1 of the Strategy, Strengthening Financial Literacy of Seniors. Through this strategy, educational content, tools, and resources have been developed and promoted to help protect seniors from fraud and financial abuse. The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada monitors the Canadian Bankers Association’s commitment on Powers of Attorney and Joint Deposit Accounts as they relate to the prevention of elder financial abuse. In addition, the Canada Revenue Agency also informs Canadians about fraud and scam activities via alerts through their website, social media, news media, regular mail, and community outreach. The Government of Canada’s Family Violence Initiative also addresses elder abuse, including financial abuse, by providing information and resources for professionals and the public.
The Government recognizes that the issue of underfunded pension plans in companies facing insolvency proceedings is complex and affects many parties, such as workers and pensioners, small businesses, lenders and other creditors which are owed money. The Government is committed to finding a balanced way forward. To that end, in Budget 2018, the Government committed to obtain feedback from pensioners, workers and companies, and take a whole-of-Government, evidence-based approach towards addressing retirement security for all Canadians.
Finally, work is continuing to develop a Poverty Reduction Strategy that sets targets to reduce poverty, aligns with existing provincial and municipal poverty reduction strategies, and includes a plan to measure and publicly report on progress.
The Committee heard of numerous challenges related to housing and aging in place. The Committee’s recommendations focus on addressing challenges related to the need for affordable, adaptable, and accessible housing, and to further explore innovative housing models, such as co-housing and intergenerational housing developments to support older Canadians across the continuum of care needs.
With regards to housing, low-income seniors and senior women living alone are populations with higher incidences of core housing need. About a third of households that live in community housing are seniors. There is intersectionality in core housing need which affects women differently than men. For example, senior women living alone are more likely than senior men to live in core housing need (27% compared to 21%). Our Government is proud of its leadership on housing, which recognizes that housing is a key aspect of building an inclusive society, and has provided leadership in improving seniors’ access to affordable housing. In November 2017, our Government launched Canada’s first ever National Housing Strategy, which will prioritize the most vulnerable Canadians, including seniors. This is a 10-year, $40 billion plan, which is the result of Federal, Provincial and Territorial collaborative work and will focus on meeting the needs of vulnerable populations, including seniors. The National Housing Strategy aims to reduce chronic homelessness by 50%, significantly reduce or eliminate housing needs for 530,000, create 100,000 new housing units, renew or repair 300,000 existing housing units, protect affordability for 385,000 households in community housing and provide direct support for 300,000 households through the Canada Housing Benefit.
An example of how the National Housing Strategy will help the housing needs of seniors, the flagship program of the Strategy, is the National Housing Co-Investment Fund, providing
$13.2 billion through contributions and loans over 10 years to ensure existing rental housing is not lost to disrepair and to develop new, high-performing affordable housing integrated with supports and services, which will help in the growth of livable communities. It will attract partnerships with and investments from the provinces and territories, municipalities, non-profits and co-operatives, and the private sector and create 7,000 new affordable units for seniors. To qualify, 20% of units in new housing projects must meet accessibility standards and ensure that common areas are barrier free or the projects must implement project-wide universal design standards. Repair and renewal projects will have the same accessibility requirements, and will require common areas to be barrier free. This builds on the two-year, $200 million commitment made in Budget 2016 to create, repair or make accessibility adaptions to 5,000 affordable housing units for seniors.
There are other National Housing Strategy initiatives that will support the housing needs seniors. The Federal Community Housing Initiative will provide $500 million over 10 years to help stabilize the operations of federally-administered community housing providers and maintain the current stock of 55,000 units, including units for seniors. Launching in 2020, the Canada Housing Benefit, which will be co-developed and delivered by provinces and territories, is expected to help over 300,000 households through support directly to families and individuals in housing need, including those living in social housing or those on a social housing wait-list.
In addition to on-the-ground programs, research and evidence-based approaches will inform our policies and lead to better housing outcomes for Canadians, including seniors. As part of the National Housing Strategy, our Government will invest $241 million over 10 years for housing research, data and enhancements to communication channels. The National Housing Strategy will develop a network of housing experts who will analyze housing challenges, including those faced by seniors. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation will also be partnering with federal granting agencies such as the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to help build capacity in housing research and accelerate translation of research discoveries into applications, best practices or the marketplace.
Our Government is also committed to the passage of proposed federal accessibility legislation that will increase the inclusion and participation of Canadians, including the 33% of seniors who have disabilities or functional limitations, most of whom are women. The goal of the proposed legislation, as part of the Accessible Canada Agenda, is to promote equality of opportunity by increasing accessibility and removing barriers in areas of federal jurisdiction.
Our Government also supports barrier free design. Building safety standards, including improving accessibility for Canadians, is the responsibility of the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes, an independent body created and supported by the National Research Council. Over the last two decades, the National Research Council has supported the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes in improving code requirements for barrier free design aligned with current knowledge on accessibility. These new requirements were provided to facilitate accessibility to large buildings.
The Committee heard from witnesses about differences across provinces and territories in the availability, affordability, and level of home care services. It was noted that the funding arrangements for health still place a much higher priority on acute and long-term care while savings could be achieved by supporting seniors in their homes and communities. The Committee’s recommendations are geared toward developing guidelines for home care services and standards for working conditions for home care workers as well as exploring and sharing best practices for long-term care, including home care.
Our Government has advanced a number of initiatives benefiting seniors, ranging from new funding for provinces and territories to investing in home care, to taking steps to improve the health workforce planning, to making several recent investments to strengthen long-term care in Canada. While the provinces and territories have primary responsibility for health care, including the provision of home care and direct supports to those providing care, the Government of Canada also plays a key role. For this reason, Budget 2017 confirmed a historic targeted investment of $6 billion over 10 years directly to provinces and territories to improve access to and quality of home care services, which will directly benefit seniors and women, and indirectly benefit unpaid family caregivers, most of whom are women. These investments will address specific gaps in our health care system, including improving home and palliative care, and support federal, provincial and territorial collaborative work to ensure that health care systems are responsive to the needs of Canadians. In August 2017, federal, provincial and territorial governments reached agreement on a Common Statement of Principles on Shared Health Priorities, which outlines key priorities for federal investment to improve home and community care, including, for example, spreading and scaling evidence-based models of home and community care that are more integrated and connected with primary health care. Currently our Government is working with jurisdictions to finalize bilateral agreements that set out the details of how each jurisdiction will use the federal funding of $6 billion over the next 10 years. These agreements also include details on conditions to receive funding, including reporting to the Canadian Institute for Health Information on a set of common home care indicators.
The Government of Canada is also taking steps to improve health workforce planning by collaborating with provincial and territorial ministries of health through the federal, provincial, territorial Committee on Health Workforce. This includes developing pan-Canadian approaches to enable healthcare providers to work to their full scope of practice individually and/or in collaborative care settings.
Through the federal research granting agencies, our Government is making important investments in research related to home care and aging in place. For example, AGE-WELL is a Network of Centres of Excellence that is helping to identify the needs of seniors and find ways to reduce the burden on their caregivers using advanced technology such as mobile communications, smart sensors and robotics to help an aging population live independently and safely at home. Our Government also supports the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging - a national, long-term study of more than 50,000 men and women between the ages of 45 and 85 that is collecting important data to help us better understand the determinants of healthy aging (including information related to care, social inclusion, and transportation).
Our Government also supports aging in place with programs such as the Veteran’s Independence Program which helps veterans remain independent and self-sufficient at home and in the larger community. Through its Long Term Care Program, Veterans Affairs Canada works in cooperation with health authorities in the provinces and territories to help ensure the needs of veterans and their families are met.
Witnesses emphasized the burden on informal caregivers who often try to balance paid employment with their support for a senior needing care. Recommendations focus on the federal government implementing model job security protection and improving awareness of the Canada Caregiver credit.
Our Government recognizes the critical role played by caregivers, most of whom are women, as well as the challenges they sometimes face in balancing work with other responsibilities. In 2012, 11% of caregivers were seniors, and 67% of caregivers were caring for a senior. Furthermore, between 2007 and 2012, the number of caregivers aged 45 and over increased by 20%.
This is why our Government has introduced measures that benefit seniors and their caregivers. In Budget 2017, our Government introduced the Canada Caregiver Credit, which, compared to the old system of caregiver credits, provides better support to those who need it the most: individuals caring for a dependant who has mental or physical infirmity. For families, it is estimated that this change represents additional tax relief of $310 million over the 2016-17 to 2021-22 period. It is estimated that about 520,000 caregivers received tax relief through the Canada Caregiver Credit in 2017. Our Government is improving awareness of the Canada Caregiver Credit, through an advertising campaign and a communication strategy. We are also introducing changes to the Canada Labour Code to give federally regulated workers, including older workers, the right to request a flexible work arrangement from their employer so that they can better manage their work, family, and personal responsibilities. In addition, changes have been introduced to make Employment Insurance caregiving benefits more flexible and inclusive, including the introduction of the new Employment Insurance Family Caregiver Benefit for adults. In addition, our Government is investing to introduce community-based projects that address challenges of dementia, which may include programs that provide mental health supports and information about self-care for family caregivers. All of these improvements support seniors both as providers of care and care recipients.
Further to the work specifically undertaken for caregivers, our Government, in its role as an employer, also recognizes the importance of family and the need to balance work and family responsibilities. As a result, recent collective agreements have expanded eligibility for provisions related to leave with pay for family responsibilities and leave without pay for care of family to provide more flexibility. With respect to the leave with pay provision, the definition of “family” has been expanded to include, for example, grandchildren, grandparents, and any relative for whom the employee has duty of care, whether they reside with the employee or not.
The Committee heard about the range of healthy aging benefits offered through the adoption of an Age-Friendly Community approach. For example, access by walking and/or public transit to social and other services can help to overcome the negative effects of social isolation. The Committee’s recommendations focus on supporting co-location of housing with seniors health services and other services; and studying age-friendly communities and zoning practices.
Our Government actively promotes the Age-Friendly Communities model to support the health, inclusion and well-being of older Canadians by collaborating with provinces and territories, as well as the World Health Organization. The Age-Friendly Communities model is a lens that can be applied to adapt, create and put in place policies, services, settings and structures that reflect the needs and preferences of seniors. Our Government provides expertise, knowledge, tools and information on best practices to help communities implement and evaluate Age-Friendly Community initiatives (implemented in over 1,200 communities in Canada). The action taken on Age-Friendly Communities by our Government, which cuts across the various themes covered by the Report, contributes to the well-being and quality of life of seniors.
Our Government recognizes that accessibility is a key component for participation in society. For this reason, the proposed federal accessibility legislation aims to promote equality of opportunity by increasing accessibility and removing barriers in areas of federal jurisdiction.
The New Horizons for Seniors Program supports projects led or inspired by seniors who make a difference in the lives of others and in their communities. With an annual budget of $50 million, the New Horizons for Seniors Program works to improve the lives of seniors by supporting two types of projects: community-based and pan-Canadian. Community-based projects enable seniors to make valuable contributions to their communities by sharing their knowledge, skills and experience and increasing the capacity to address local issues. Pan-Canadian projects use collaborative and innovative approaches to help reduce social isolation among seniors. Since the Program started in 2004, close to 21,600 projects have been funded in hundreds of communities across Canada. Evidence shows that the New Horizons for Seniors Program helps to ensure that seniors continue to benefit from, and contribute to, the quality of life in their communities by reaching out to seniors, enhancing their well-being and helping them live long and prosperous lives.
Finally, the Committee made recommendations regarding the development of a national seniors strategy which underscore the importance of working with other levels of government and stakeholders towards a comprehensive and integrated strategy to advance the inclusion and well-being of seniors and implementing a seniors’ lens across departments. The Committee specifically recommended that Employment and Social Development Canada and the National Seniors Council develop a national seniors strategy that includes: a vision for aging with dignity; monitoring and disseminating information on promising practices in Canadian and international contexts; and promoting partnerships between governments and stakeholders.
Our Government agrees that seniors issues are complex and interrelated; indeed, that is why we have been diligent in advancing a multifaceted seniors agenda. We are committed to continuing to provide leadership in this area and are pleased the Committee agrees with the need for ongoing attention to seniors issues. To support this, I have asked the National Seniors Council, under the leadership of Dr. Suzanne Dupuis-Blanchard, to carefully consider the Committee’s report and provide advice to myself and Minister Petitpas Taylor regarding priorities and next steps. We have asked the Council to provide advice, based on their expertise and examination of the issues, on emerging priorities that build on work already underway. The Council will have a pivotal role in continuing the dialogue and providing advice on how to continue to improve quality of life for seniors. In fact, the National Seniors Council has already begun those discussions.
Our Government is committed to seniors and ensuring they are able to engage in all aspects of society. That is why we have provided leadership and made investments in so many important areas: we supported Member of Parliament, Marc Serré’s Motion M-106, we supported HUMA undertaking this study, and we welcome this report and its recommendations. We will use this report in our reflection on the best way forward and potential next steps to address seniors issues. Our Government will continue to do its part and looks forward to continuing to work with provinces, territories, the HUMA Committee and other key stakeholders to continue advancing inclusion and quality of life for seniors.
The Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Families, Children and Social Development