We are entering a new age in all sorts of ways. One of the new things that we don't talk about much is what it will mean when most people are over the age of 60.
Our world has been designed and constructed around a normal of most people being young. That is most people being able to absorb higher costs. Over the next 30 years, we will face the opposite. As each year passes, more and more of us will not be able to pay more. We old folks will not have the money. We will have less and less and no where to go to get more. And there will be more and more of us.
We have not talked much about what the world will be like when most of us are old and poor. We have to. And we have to now.
The first boomers are 65 this year. PEI is very exposed. We will have one of the most age skewed populations in Canada. So what does this mean for you and for me?
Do you have a generous pension? I don't. Most don't. If you have one, do you really think it is secure? We can see right now in places like Greece where pensions are being cut. We have seen here that corporate pensions are not safe - Nortel. If you get a Government Pension today - how safe will it be when most other people have nothing?
How much money will you have per year for the next 30 years? At my best possible calculation for me it is in the poverty bracket. What about you? How much a month will you have over the next 30 years? Scary isn't it!
So we are entering a time when the basic assumption that next year there can and will be more money is off the table. But how the system works is based on the idea that there will be more money next year. So with the old assumptions, we are on track for a squeeze and then a collision.
How will I pay my property taxes, my heating bills, look after my health and have enough to eat. How will you? This is how I see these things:
Property taxes - They are 10% of my gross income right now. They are among the largest bills I have to pay. Unlike any other bill, if I don't pay them, I can be evicted from my home. This is the one bill that can make you and I homeless.
Cities themselves know how damaging these taxes are but have no other source of income. They are systemically starved by the higher levels of government.
In 10 years time, the majority of home owners will be pensioners. Their only asset will be their home. Can we still have a system that taxes people who will have so little cash in a way that drives them onto the street? What then?
I have not a clue what to do here -I do see this as being an "Impossible Bill" to pay. It would not be hard to see my property tax double in 10 years. It would be impossible for me to pay. It would be impossible for any senior to pay.
There has to be a new way to support our cities and not destroy our society. Time now to start talking about this.
Health Costs - As we get older our health costs go up. It is not unusual to spend $500 a month on drugs now if you have had a heart attack. At least 30% of adult Islanders will have type 2 diabetes. If you get this, you will have massive health risks and costs. About 40% of us will get cancer. The list goes on.
When most of us were young, we did not pay attention to this. Hey the system would pay. But in 4 years time, the PEI health budget will exceed our total tax revenues. The health care system will not be able to pay. Nor will you.
We cannot continue as if we did not live in a new time with new rules.
What happens when we are really old? -Worse, when we get to a certain stage, we cannot look after ourselves on our own. The current normal is that we go to a "home". Well my mum is in such a place. It costs about $40,000 a year after tax to keep her there. Fortunately she has a great pension from my late father. But few of us will have that. And even for her, with the world going as it is - is her pension a sure thing? What if she lives another 20 years? Will her pension be there? If it is not, how will I cope? I can't imagine how I would cope.
Many of us will be faced with this. The new sandwich generation of 70 year old people looking after 95 year old parents.
There will be 8,000 85 plus year old widows on PEI in 15 years time. That is a cost to PEI of $320,000,000 or half the current health budget. Stuffing us all in Manors just cannot work when there are so many of us. AND when PEI's ability to raise taxes and revenues will be so limited.
It gets worse. When we get put in an institution, our health collapses and the costs of keeping us ticking over go up exponentially. It is when we have no place in the world. So if we institutionalize the elderly, our normal now, their health care costs shoot through the roof.
We do know though that if the elderly can stay in their home, that this does wonders for their health.
No organization knows more about this than Canada's Veterans Affairs. What VAC have found is that the longer people stay in their home the lower the costs as they remain healthy. so VAC have a program of support, meals , cleaning, yard work etc that helps the frail stay in their home. This is much less expensive and better for all. It also offers a lot of work.
So here we go in a circle. This will have to be the way. For I cannot as a 70 year old look after my paralyzed mother. I will need help if she has to come and live with me. But if paying property taxes means that I have no home..... see what I mean.
Health Costs - The Hope - There is a way forward on health costs though. I am acting on this way ahead for myself. The chronic diseases that we all think of as normal - heart disease, cancer, arthritis, type 2 diabetes, dementia, Alzheimer's etc are not normal but are a product of our diet and how we live. In a year I have transformed my health and my aging process by eating and living differently. Aged 61, I have the health and the activity ability of a man in his healthy early 50's. I should be able to stay this way until I die.
We can PREVENT these diseases and we can age well.
My regular readers know all about this and if you are new to this - then dig into my site.
If we do not explore this opportunity, I don't see how we can make it through the next 30 years.
Food the Hope - What such a new way of thinking will do as a consequence is drive out a new food system. Eating right will all depend on access to real food that cannot be raised in an industrial way. Instead of a few big farms, we will need thousands of small operations. Instead osfus buying most of our food in a processed form from the supermarket, it will mean most of us buying food from local people.
This is a huge work and economic opportunity. It is a huge health opportunity too.
Energy Costs - Oil is like Property Taxes - Heating oil is up 25% this year over last. The heating bill is one of the non negotiables. Heating with oil costs Islanders about $200 million a year. That is the equivalent of a 1/4 of the total PEI tax revenue. So this is the largest family bill we pay. The average is I think about $2,500 a home.
We have no negotiating power with winter!
Helping out a few people each heating season will not work when more than 50% of Islanders will not be able to afford to heat their home.
We have to find a structural new way. It will have to involve reducing the demand - up to 40% can be saved with better insulation etc - and by changing how we heat so we are not exposed to the global oil price. For surely in the next 30 years, where do we see oil prices going? We have to have an energy strategy that is designed to reduce demand and to cut us off from the rosk of oil prices. No easy thing but there is a lot of thought already.
Food The Risk - Nearly all the food we eat comes from away. Nearly all the food we eat depends on oil too. On oil to farm and on oil to transport. We are so exposed. Look at what has happened to poorer nations, food is all but outside the budget of a family. We have to reduce our exposure to oil and our food. This can only be done, if we grow food in a new way.
Such a way of growing food and such a shift in diet - away from annual row crops that need oil and that contribute to the health crisis - to pasture based animals and permaculture veggies will offer a huge boost to employment. It is a win win win.
My regular readers know that much work has been done to see what such a system would be like and I will not go further here.
So here then is the bottom line for all of us.
IT IS NOT BUSINESS AS USUAL. In 10 years time most of us will be over 50 and many will be close to 70. We will be on very limited and insecure budgets. Our tax system, our approach to health, our approach to food and our approach to energy has to change.
Time is so short. We have to get a lot of the new design done and in action in the next 5 years if we have any hope of making it through the next 30.
Time to start the conversation. Time to help each other and time to help our governments do the right thing.