Death and taxes: A vision For Toronto's seniors
Is what they say about death and taxes true? Until recently, I accepted both as the predetermined irrevocable course of life and never thought to question it. That is until I thought about my grandmother.
Nothing beats my grandma’s cooking. You name it, she can cook it. In fact, every time I’m at her house being fed, yet another helping of chicken, macaroni pie or rice and peas I ask her how she does it. Her response is always the same, “I’ve been doing it all my life”. The truth is my grandma cooks like her life depends on it because there was a time when it did. Today it’s the kind of reality show that would have made networks millions; think Survivor meets Iron Chef, but instead of losing your chance at millions, you get deported or lose your work permit.
As a young mother in her 20s, my grandma left Jamaica to build a better life for her children. She left her tiny island and her tiny tots in the care of her siblings and prepared for a new life in Canada. Her first job was as a domestic in Nova Scotia where her cooking talents eventually led to a stable job in Toronto. During that time she would send money back home, working towards the day when her kids (my dad and aunt)would be by her side. Then in 1976, with her stable employment and understanding of the Canadian way of life, my dad and aunt arrived to Canada.
My grandma worked hard to make sure her kids did well. And what repayment will she get for her years of service? Death and taxes. In the spirit of non-discrimination, this seems to be the “gift” every senior receives, even the ones who don’t have the adequate means to live a dignified life. It’s too bad you can’t regift bad government decisions. Or maybe you can.
Could Toronto introduce a revised taxation system that uses property taxes to make life better for low income seniors? Wait, we do that through the Ontario Fair Assessment System, but let’s take that step further. Almost 10 per cent of Toronto’s population lives in social housing. And that number will double in the next few years. Municipalities like ours need to take a leadership role and design a plan that ensures that seniors who weren’t able to afford a house in our expensive city can still have a chance at a life of dignity.
The statistics are alarming. More than 20 per cent of Toronto’s seniors live in poverty and the number continues to grow in this city. Many impoverished seniors live alone, without many social networks. Family and supports are sporadic at best, and with the unstable funding of many non-profit organizations, community programs are only in “just visiting” status; long enough to say hello, but just as quick to say goodbye (Aside: is this what they mean by “socially liberal and fiscally conservative?”).
Currently Toronto’s poverty rate for seniors is 50 per cent higher than the national average. If the predictions are right and this population increases by 50 per cent by time 2031 rolls around, what does that mean for us?
If we do nothing, then it means nothing. Life will remain as is. Seniors will continue to suffer in silence, living in social and economic exile, confirming their existence through up-to-date tax records. Meanwhile, the cost of living (especially food, shelter, transportation) will continue skyrocket to stratospheric levels at the same time that quality of life plummets to embarrassingly, no, shamefully substandard levels.
By revising our taxation system for low income seniors, Toronto would be making a bold statement: that seniors deserve a life of dignity.
Currently the income supports for impoverished seniors are a guarantee that they will die poor and forgotten; Poor because of their struggle to pay for taxes on a very limited income and forgotten because living in poverty often is a life of isolation for seniors. When you’re a poor senior, there’s no afternoon brunch and social clubs to frequent. That’s a luxury afforded to the affluent.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that social clubs open their doors to destitute seniors. What I’m suggesting is that our government take a leadership role in recognizing that as Toronto becomes home to more and more seniors and the poverty becomes an inevitable reality, we should look at the taxing impact of the taxation system on impoverished seniors.
This also raises a bigger questions: Do we have an equitable vision for aging in Toronto? Yes, the old adage about death and taxes is true. They are inevitable, but they should not be related.