Sometimes hearing the simplest comment or having a glimpse of a small act strikes a deep chord within us.  This happened to me the other day.  After tossing a drooping bouquet of flowers into the compost box at the central garbage area of the building I live in I headed out to run some errands.  On my return about an hour later I noticed over at the central garbage area an older woman I recognized.  She is one of the many street people who frequent our neighbourhood, looking for bottles or cans to return for deposit money, or hoping to find other useful items.  She was breaking the top part of the stem of one of the dried up flowers I had tossed away and was placing it into her sweater button hole.  She looked very happy to have the flower.  I was touched to see her enjoyment of the flower.  But I was also saddened to think about the challenges she must face day-to-day and her vulnerability at this stage of life.

There are many street people in the area of the city where I live but I never anticipated that they would include middle aged and older women.  I fear that I may be seeing the tip of a growing trend in our population.  Clearly my sample of a few individuals cannot be considered a reliable thermometer of older Canadians’ well-being.  But the recent OECD news release supports my concerns citing a 2% increase between 2007 and 2010 in the numbers of those aged 65 and older in Canada who are experiencing poverty.  Among OECD countries, this increase in poverty in the older age group is shared only with Poland and Turkey.  During this same time period other OECD countries are showing stable or decreasing levels of poverty for those aged 65 and older.   Poverty is complex with many contributing factors.  However, changes to corporate employee benefits and government entitlements have the potential to increase the number of older Canadians living in poverty.   As stated by the OECD:

“Governments need to consider the long-term impact on social cohesion, inequality and poverty. Ensuring everyone has a decent standard of living after a life of work should be at the heart of policies.”

Individuals who are in poverty during their later years will place increasing pressures on our social and health services.  The human cost will also be high.  The monetary savings to offset our increasing life expectancies through changes in age eligibility for government entitlements from 65 to 67 may seem logical but for those who are poor, and likely to have shorter life expectancies, it simply seems cruel.