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July 2016


Community Development Halton (CDH) and the Social Planning Network of Ontario (SPNO) have addressed as core concerns the issues of poverty, inequality and income security. Once again emergent conversations about a basic income or guaranteed income are reverberating across communities. I share with you an opinion piece recently published in the Hamilton Spectator on the impact of basic income on economic and social inclusion. It is written by myself and Peter Clutterbuck, Senior Community Planning Consultant with SPNO.

Joey Edwardh
Executive Director

The Occupy Movement put poverty and income inequality on the public agenda in 2011, and since then public debate on a number of policy fronts has emerged with living and minimum wage campaigns, renewed poverty reduction plans, and a basic income guarantee (BIG) for everyone. On the basic income idea, the Ontario Government has committed to pilot test a “mincome project”.

Reducing both poverty and inequality is a complex undertaking, and creating a coherent policy package out of the mix of proposals under consideration is a daunting challenge. As critical as it is, testing only basic income may discount the importance of other considerations in creating a more equitable, just and inclusive society.

It is best to start with the desirable outcomes of restructuring our social and economic security system. We would argue that these outcomes are security, stability, and dignity for all Canadians. While an adequate basic income guarantee would contribute to these ends, the emphasis on the role of this income transfer to individuals tends to overshadow the critical importance of other pillars of a supportive policy framework.

Certainly, an income guarantee above the poverty line offers a measure of security to individuals and families, especially with respect to having sufficient food and shelter. Ensuring the availability of affordable housing stock, however, will demand additional public policy intervention (e.g. rent control, inclusionary zoning, decent social housing).

Maintaining stability through varying life circumstances (e.g. disability, poor health) and major life stages and transitions (e.g. raising families, moving into the workforce, retraining) require forms of support beyond only an income transfer. Tax supported human services and care produce not only relative stability through our life paths but also social cohesion and inclusion.

Making a universal basic income model the primary form of social protection may risk leaving the provision of essential human services to the marketplace. Would a basic income program just become another convenient route for government to offload its responsibilities for social provision to individuals and families?

In terms of dignity, basic income advocates argue compellingly that a universal income guarantee would eliminate the stigma of means testing. Further, decoupling income from “labour force attachment” will free people up to offer their skills and talents to personally chosen areas of endeavour and contribution to society.

Doubtless true for some, but this reasoning absolves governments from any serious commitment to a strong labour market policy to create decent employment for all in the economy of the future. Many at the margins without education or entrepreneurial inclinations may well end up hovering around the poverty line for their entire lives.

Why not the same public policy guarantees to the meaning and value of work in the construction of human dignity and the creation of a common good? While the traditional economy flags in job creation, there is no lack of work needed to build and strengthen our social and civic infrastructure. Re-balancing our economy from one tilted heavily towards private wealth creation to one of collective stewardship of our human and financial resources offers shared opportunity for all.

We suggest that an Ontario pilot should test more than only the impact of a basic income guarantee. A more flexible experiment focusing on certain population groups rather than on one or two geographic areas could also show how income programs, adaptive human service supports, and employment in the civic and nonprofit sectors might combine in mutually reinforcing ways to respond to the varying life circumstances and conditions of different groups.

How could adequate income support and transitional services make the path from education to the labour force smooth for young people? A Youth Income Benefit for young people would enable “debt free” learning and training supports for transition into work in the new economy.

Given the socially and environmentally useful work to be done, why not guarantee working age adults both training and civic employment at living wages in the non-profit and local public services sectors?

Going further, a pilot could test a flexible mix of income benefits, full and part-time employment options and accommodating individualized service supports for persons with physical, intellectual and mental health conditions. This would engage and liberate a vastly untapped human resource for community benefit.

Testing only basic income models may be short-sighted. A policy package combining income security with stabilizing public services and dignifying work would better reflect a vision of an equitable, inclusive and socially just future for all Canadians.


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Produced by Community Development Halton
3350 South Service Road
Burlington, Ontario L7N 3M6
(905) 632-1975, (905) 878-0955; Fax: (905) 632-0778; E-mail:
office@cdhalton.ca

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May 2016


This report examines the changing nature of the labour market and its impact on youth employment, and ultimately, the quality of their lives.

There are more temporary, seasonal and contract jobs, causing a wide fluctuation of work schedules, no benefits, and workers who cannot make personal and family plans.

This has led to a decrease in job duration, with the traditional career ladder dismantled. Entry level jobs are outsourced and top level positions are hired from outside. Many are asking about Halton’s youth and their future.

Joey Edwardh
Executive Director

Youth Population

For the purpose of this study, youth is defined as those persons between the ages of 15 and 24 years. This definition is widely used by international agencies such as the United Nations and the World Bank, as well as Statistics Canada.

Youth related data released by Statistics Canada are usually further broken down by two age subgroups: 15-19 years and 20-24 years. While both groups can be in the labour market, the first group corresponds to those entering and completing high school education and the second group includes those completing postsecondary education.

In 2011, there were over 63,000 persons between the ages of 15 and 24 years living in Halton Region. They represent about 12% of the total population.

According to the latest population projections prepared by the Ontario Ministry of Finance.[1] Halton’s youth population will reach 80,000 by 2021. Its share of the region’s total population will remain the same at about 12%, where one in eight residents is a youth.

 

Labour Market Participation Rate

As young people are getting fewer of the jobs that are being created, there is a need for our governments to look at their role in developing appropriate public policy (Yalnizyan, 2014). To this end, the federal government undertook a study of youth employment in Canada and submitted a report and recommendations to the House of Commons in June 2014. There were 23 recommendations but, only one is actually concerned with creating job opportunities for youth and it needs further study. Missing are any big ideas to actually tackle the problem of youth unemployment (Hatt, 2014).

The Broadbent Institute released a report “urging the development of a bold Youth Job Guarantee that would ensure those under age 25 have access to a good job, paid internship, or training position within four months of leaving formal education or becoming unemployed” (Broadbent Institute, 2014b, 2). A bold public policy direction is considered critical in any response to the challenges of young people transitioning to work.

At the provincial level, Ontario signed the Canada-Ontario Job Fund Agreement in March 2014. The agreement is a key source of funding for new, employer-driven, training initiatives and represents an opportunity for the province to engage more effectively with employers to support Ontarians in obtaining the skills required to fill and succeed in available jobs. The grant will provide direct financial support for employers who wish to purchase training for their workforce. This program is intended to support employers’ in taking a greater role in workforce development. The cost of training is a shared investment between employers and the government.[2]

As part of the 2015 Ontario Budget, the Ontario government renewed the Ontario Youth Jobs Strategy for another two years as it saw continued high youth unemployment.

Figure 1 shows the trend line of the unemployment rate for the youth population in Halton Region and Ontario between 2006 and 2013.

 

Figure 1. Unemployment Rate by Age Group, Ontario and Halton Region, 2006-2013

Figure 1. Unemployment Rate by Age Group, Ontario and Halton Region, 2006-2013

 

In 2013, youth unemployment was still 2.7 times higher than the overall unemployment rate. More youth were unemployed while at the same time, there were large numbers of youth leaving the labour force.

Part-time employment is the term referring to jobs with less than 30 hours per week. In 2014, about one-fifth (19.4%) of the jobs in Ontario were part-time. For the youth population, over half (52%) of the employment were part-time.

The Peel Halton Workforce Development Group found youth aged 15 to 24 years continue to feel the effect of the recession of 2008 (Peel Halton Workforce Development Group, 2015). In particular, youth without a high school diploma were most affected, with unemployment rates of 30%.

According to the Peel Halton Workforce Development Group, while youth are more likely to be employed part-time because of school attendance, this falls off as the level of education increases (Peel Halton Workforce Development Group, 2015). This is presumably because as youth obtain a diploma or degree, they are more likely to be seeking full-time employment.

 

Job Availability in Ontario in 2015

The unemployment rate for Ontario youth aged 15 to 24 increased to 14.8%, while the national average was 13.2% in July 2015. Summer employment amongst students intending to return to school in September declined by 3.4% compared to 2014. However, Ontario students still have greater challenges finding jobs relative to the Canadian student population, as the Ontario student unemployment rate was 18.7%, well above the Canadian average of 16.3%

2011 National Household Survey Snapshot

According to the 2011 National Household Survey (NHS), of the 63,000 youth in Halton in 2011, about 40,000 (63.3%) were in the labour force. They were either employed (32,000) or unemployed (7,4000) without paid work or without self-employment and were available for work.

In 2011, the unemployment rate for youth (15 to 24) was 18.7%. For those between 15 to 19 years, the unemployment rate was 21.4%, which means that one in five teenage youth were looking for work.

Although the unemployment rate is most commonly used to measure the performance of the labour market, it does not include those who are not actively looking for work or who have given up looking. The employment rate which calculates the employment to population ratio presents a more complete snapshot of the labour market – how many people have jobs as a percentage of all people in that population. For the youth population, slightly over half (51.5%) were working.

To some extent, female youth are slightly better-off than their male counterparts in both the unemployment and employment rates. Over half (53.7%) of the female youth were working. Their unemployment rate is three percentage points lower than that of the male youth. This may in part be explained by a larger proportion of women participating in postsecondary education than men, particularly between the ages of 20 and 24.

Educational Attainment

In Halton, over one-third (37%) of the youth between 15 and 19 years completed high school or equivalent while many of them were still in school (e.g. with no certificate, diploma or degree).

A more appropriate measure of the number of youth with a high school diploma as their highest educational level attained is to look at the older age group (20-24 years). As the 2011 NHS data indicates, less than half (45%) of that cohort successfully completed high school.

Within the 20 to 24 year’s age group, about half have obtained postsecondary education. About one-quarter (24%) have received an university certificate, diploma or degree at the bachelor level or above.

Only 2.5% of the 20 to 24 age group has an apprenticeship or trades certificate or diploma compared to the provincial average of 3.7% and national average of 7.8%.

Employment and Educational Attainment

For the youth population (15-24 years), the difference in the employment rate is more significant. The employment rate for those with no certificate, diploma, or degree was at 33%, less than half of that of the adult population. With a university diploma or degree, their employment rate improved to 71%.

Of particular interest is the employment rate for those with an apprenticeship or trades certificate or diploma. For the youth population, this level of educational attainment has the highest employment rate (81%). It is even higher than those with a university diploma or degree (85%). There were more male youth pursuing this type and level of education than females. The ratio is approximately 3 to 1.

Youth Occupations

By far the most common occupation for youth is sales and service. It accounts for over half (54%) of youth workers. This proportion is more than double the average (22%) for the total labour force.

The next popular occupation is business, finance and administration (12%) followed by the trades, transport and equipment operator’s occupation (8%).

One in eight youth worked as retail salespersons or sales clerks. One in ten worked as food counter attendants or kitchen helpers. About 9% worked as cashiers.

Most of the jobs are characterized as precarious, meaning they are poorly paid and insecure.

Implications

  • In addition to unemployment, many unemployed youth have to repay student loans and have other financial obligations.
  • Unemployed youth may be forced to take on precarious employment.
  • Long-term unemployment may have detrimental impacts on mental health of youth.
  • Long-term unemployment also has a negative impact on the future earning potential of youth.
  • Youth unemployment can lead to anti-social behaviour.
  • Are we training our youth appropriately for the current and future labour market?

 

Challenges Facing Youth Transitioning To Work

Several key informants were identified and interviewed for their insights into youth employment challenges in Halton. They represented the following organizations:

  • Employment Halton
  • Goodwill, The Amity Group
  • Halton Industry Education Council
  • Oakville and District Labour Council
  • Peel Halton Workforce Development Group
  • The Centre for Skills Development and Training
  • YMCA of Hamilton, Burlington, Brantford

Below is a summary of their perspectives.

Underemployment and Precarious Employment

The issues of underemployment and precarious employment were identified as significant issues for young people. Key informants discussed the dynamic of more part-time work coupled with a lack of experience means that there is competition with older, more experienced workers, especially for precarious positions. There was recognition that as an increasing number of older workers continue participating in the labour force beyond traditional retirement age of 65 years, this puts pressure on part-time opportunities.

Student Debt

Student loans are creating challenges for youth to make progress in their working lives. They have greater debt coming out of postsecondary education and might have to live at home as they pay down their debt. There are also false expectations of what life will be like after postsecondary education. It is as if the bubble has been popped.

Information on the Labour Market

One of the challenges identified in the literature is that young people seeking work face a lack of good information on current job prospects as well as future career planning. Key informants indicated this lack of information represents a disconnection between the academic disciplines youths choose to pursue and the types of jobs currently in demand.

A challenge identified is to get beyond the stigma of skilled trades. For this, a paradigm shift is needed.

A critical element, as highlighted by one respondent, is the importance of young people networking as much as possible. Knowing someone who might provide that entry to a job is critical and youth who do not have connections are at a disadvantage.

Attitudes

Key informants identified that youth of today are different from the youth of 20 years ago. Traits identified include not having the same work ethic and an attitudinal shift with a focus on themselves, wanting something more immediate.

They also identified that young workers have unrealistic expectations of their place within the labour force. This was both in terms of their expectations of the kind of jobs they are qualified to secure as well as rates of compensation.

Employer Perceptions of Young Workers’ Experience and Skills

Key informants indicated that employers are looking for those with experience and are investing less in training. Lack of experience is one of the biggest barriers for young workers and when employers are not providing opportunities, it becomes more challenging to gain that experience. The challenge is that the changing nature of the labour market means that there are fewer jobs out of high school, and that youth are introduced to work later in life.

A number of respondents indicated that employers are looking for “soft” skills, such as attitudes towards work, being able to work with others in teams and professional appearance.

Key informants identified an attitude towards millennials where the experience has been that young people feel entitled and this raises potential issues with accountability.

Current Strategies

One respondent indicated that initial uptake to the Canada-Ontario Job Grant, which provides direct financial support to individual employers who wish to purchase training for their employees, was low. They identified that small businesses may be looking for immediate payback on training investment versus future planning. Another respondent indicated that “despite the fact that Halton is an affluent community with lots of advantages, we still don’t serve youth well.”

There was also discussion on current community and government supports that indicated challenges in navigating the various systems and programs. Programs can be disjointed and issues such as continuity of funding challenge youth employment services in delivering appropriate assistance.

The other area of supports discussed were those youths with various challenges or barriers. One example provided was for youth with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) who may have fallen through the school system. Other areas identified as needing further supports were mental health and addiction, as well as newcomer youth, especially if they are not within the education system. Finally, the issue of transportation, particularly in a north-south direction within Halton, was identified as a continuing challenge for those seeking employment and training opportunities.

Recommendations and Actions

Based on the information gathered from the literature and key informant interviews, a few potential strategies came forth:

  • Develop creative solutions around mentoring and mediation, given that retention within the workplace was identified as an issue.
  • Increase opportunities for youth to learn and practice networking skills, and increase awareness about these employment opportunities.
  • Increase the availability of information and skills training workshops that provide youth with tools to enter the labour market.
  • Improve access to employment information and career development to youth to help mitigate some of the barriers to gainful employment.
  • Increase flexibility in training that allows for realistic expectations through the development of individualized solutions and supports.
  • Improve coordination across the employment services sector that minimizes the competitive nature of organizations. Look at organizational best practices, as one size does not fit all.

From a public policy perspective, a number of items need to be considered in order to address youth employment challenges.

  • Reduce or remove financial barriers to higher education. The cost of education should not burden students with a debt load.
  • Regulate internship programs to ensure that participants receive the appropriate educational and training value from the work or where their work provides economic value to their employer.
  • Develop appropriate minimum wage and living wage policies that ensure equitable compensation for work.
  • Develop flexible requirements and the appropriate supports and resources for taking on apprenticeships. Currently, strict requirements may be too much for small business employers.
  • Provide a broad range of supports, particularly for youth with additional challenges and barriers to employment, such as mental health and addiction, and transportation.

The full report can be found on Community Development Halton’s website at http://www.cdhalton.ca/reports-list/589-challenges-facing-youth-transitioning-to-work.


[1] Ontario Ministry of Finance, Ontario Population Projections: 2012-2036, Spring, 2013

[2] http://www.tcu.gov.on.ca/eng/eopg/cojg/cojg_faq.html


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Produced by Community Development Halton
860 Harrington Court
Burlington, Ontario L7N 3N4
(905) 632-1975, (905) 878-0955; Fax: (905) 632-0778; E-mail:
office@cdhalton.ca

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April 2016


The sharing economy is mentioned repeatedly in the news. What is the sharing economy? Will it affect our social and economic environment? Does it make services and other assets more accessible? How does this affect the quality of life of people as they live in their community? How will our communities and municipalities embrace the emergent sharing economy to enhance life across our Region? Is it an alternative to goods offered in the market? Lawson Hunter, a former member of Community Development Halton’s Board of Directors, offers a reflection on the sharing economy and its support of building vibrant smart cities. I thought it important to share his thoughts.

Joey Edwardh
Executive Director

Recently, there’s been a fair amount of discussion about the ‘Sharing Economy’ in the news and within several industries. What exactly is the sharing economy? Is it a help or hindrance to local businesses? Are for-profit companies taking advantage of underemployed people offering promises of lucrative sources of income (without the benefits of health coverage, insurance or liability)? Are companies like Uber, Airbnb, Lyft, TaskRabbit,[1] Panda Parking[2] and dozens of others simply skirting regulations and taxes? The list of questions, and questionable motives, grows while municipalities grapple with their own by-laws and try to balance a healthy local economy with the rights of citizens to choice and affordable options.

Rather than deal with the ‘ride-sharing’-vs.-taxi industry dilemma head on, Toronto city councillors, after a raucous six-hour debate, chose to punt the issue to staff to come up with new rules that create “a level playing field” between traditional cabs and Uber,[3] the tech company that provides software to everyday drivers eager to pick up passengers and charge a fraction of what the licensed taxi companies would charge.

Uber was asked to cease its service until the staff report came back but has yet to comply. At the same time, taxi companies in Toronto scrambled to implement smart phone apps and online booking services, mimicking the convenience of ride-sharing programs. The overall message – municipalities are caught flat footed with out-of-date regulations as tech companies, many valued at millions, if not billions of dollars with little or no infrastructure and off-shore head offices, operate beyond the reach of any national, let alone municipal legislation.

But I’m getting ahead of the real issue.

Let’s start by differentiating between sharing a cup of sugar over the fence with offering an out of town visitor an empty room at half the price a hotel would cost; or shovelling an elderly neighbour’s sidewalk with doubling up a car-ride and charging a fee to offset gas and maintenance.

The traditional definition of sharing is perceived to be the exchange of unused items or making articles available to others for free or splitting the cost and benefits of an item (like a ladder or a fence). At the same time, concepts such as car-sharing, tool libraries, house exchanges, couch surfing, and even donations of clothing or food add to the local economy, provide employment and encourage budding entrepreneurship not to mention the environmental benefits of reducing, reusing and recycling.

In addition, co-operative ventures in housing, banking, sporting equipment and food markets are also considered to be part of the ‘sharing economy’ and have long been part of the fabric of our daily lives. With the growth of the Internet, sites such as eBay and Kijiji “allow people to take idle capital and turn them into revenue sources.”[4] Forbes magazine estimated that the sharing economy would reach $3.5 billion in 2013.[5] PwC, the accounting firm, notes that figure as having been surpassed and could reach as much as $335 billion by 2025.[6] If the municipalities of Halton are serious about attracting new enterprises, young entrepreneurs, and expanding their base of the ‘knowledge economy,’ they had better get on board this racing train.

For example, Airbnb, the website that lists, finds and rents lodging has over 1.4 million listings in 34,000 cities and 190 countries.[7] That’s truly an impressive number, but if one thinks about how many times a day neighbours exchange items, share resources, donate articles to a local cause, or simply work together on a project, it becomes apparent that our culture is based on co-operation. Without sharing and volunteering and coaching little league, very little would operate (smoothly) in our communities. We, in fact, already live in a sharing economy. The common things we share, like parks, pathways, clean water, and services such as health care, education and training all contribute to a better life – regardless of our ‘social standing’ or economic means.

A Sharing City makes for a friendly, warm and welcoming experience and a ‘liveable’ city. We all benefit from our shared amenities, even if we don’t all use the public ice rink, library, or transit system. There are also benefits to be had by exploring how Halton residents can learn and earn from various sharing models and platforms that are inevitable and surrounding our community already. But residents also need to know that local government is supportive of alternative economic models – without threatening existing businesses.

The Sharing Economy is known by many names: peer-to-peer economy, collaborative consumption, circular economy, the ‘gig’ economy, etc. reflecting that there is no one-size-fits-all approach or results. The sharing economy touches on transportation, accommodation, finance, staffing, crowdfunding, media (books, music, digital). It also holds the possibility of being disruptive to numerous jobs already being done (or not done if the costs are prohibitive). It also holds out the potential to lift a number of people out of the precarious nature of underemployment by utilizing their skills and possessions in the ‘after-market’.

The sharing economy affects residents and businesses alike, and deserves our attention. Citizens need to tell their elected officials they want a vibrant conversation about the sharing economy and what it should look like. Local levels of government, and business associations (like the Chamber of Commerce) need to get ahead of this growing trend before impacts on local employment are felt – through careful and thorough analysis and recommendations on appropriate regulations and restrictions, and to track the amount of activities anticipated. “Big issues also have yet to be worked out over how these services are taxed and whether they protect customers sufficiently from liability and fraud.”[8]

The Sharing Economy is coming to a town near, and dear, to you.

ShareSmartCity invites any and all to join together, meet and network with groups and individuals that participate in the 'sharing economy' in order to map out and spread the word that Burlington is a Sharing City.

Individuals are also invited to discuss the 'sharing economy'. Help identify groups and organizations in our community that share goods and services. Thursday, April 14 at 7:30pm in the Frank Rose Room, Burlington Central Library, 2331 New Street.

For more information, contact Lawson Hunter @ShareSmartCity (Twitter) or email: info@newsandcomment.com


[1] TaskRabbit is an online service that connects work needed (raking leaves, repairing household items) with those who have a skill and time.

[2] Panda Parking connects your empty driveway with someone who needs to park their car for a couple of hours

[3] CBC. “Toronto city council votes for new rules to accommodate Uber”

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/uber-toronto-city-debate-1.3249983

[4] Forbes. “Airbnb and The Unstoppable Rise of the Share Economy”

http://www.forbes.com/sites/tomiogeron/2013/01/23/airbnb-and-the-unstoppable-rise-of-the-share-economy

[5] PWC. “The sharing economy – sizing the revenue opportunity”

http://www.pwc.co.uk/issues/megatrends/collisions/sharingeconomy/the-sharing-economy-sizing-the-revenue-opportunity.html

[6] Forbes. “Airbnb and The Unstoppable Rise of the Share Economy”

[7]About Us – Airbnb. www.airbnb.ca/about/about-us

[8] Forbes. “Airbnb and The Unstoppable Rise of the Share Economy”


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Produced by Community Development Halton
860 Harrington Court
Burlington, Ontario L7N 3N4
(905) 632-1975, (905) 878-0955; Fax: (905) 632-0778; E-mail:
office@cdhalton.ca

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March 2016


In 2016, Sheridan College’s Centre for Elder Research was awarded a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant. The Centre, along with Community Development Halton and other community partners across the Halton and Peel regions, are collaborating to create policies and programs that will not only interrupt the deteriorating effects of loneliness and social isolation for those over 65 years of age, but also will promote more inclusive, age-friendly communities.

This Community Dispatch reviews recent understandings of loneliness and social isolation among older adults, while at the same time outlining distinguishing characteristics. It also explores the prevalence of social isolation and loneliness in older adults and some potential risk factors that may increase an individual’s loneliness and/or social isolation.

Joey Edwardh
Executive Director

Introduction

Ageing is the gradual process of growing old. In Canada, the term ‘old age’ and senior is defined as an individual who is over the age of 65. Old age is described as a transitional period where older adults encounter changes in either their physical health or social roles.

According to Statistics Canada, the senior age group experienced a population increase of 29.1%, indicating that older adults are the fastest growing population in the country. Canada’s senior population will continue to increase in the upcoming years. In fact, according to Statistic Canada’s annual demographic estimates, the country’s senior population has outnumbered children between the ages 0 to 14 for the first time in history. By 2036, it is estimated that the proportion of seniors in the overall population will range somewhere between 23 to 25 per cent. This strongly accentuates the need to grasp an understanding of the ageing population’s precise needs, as well as the need to increase and improve services in the ageing field.

On average, Canada’s ageing population is found to live a more active, healthy and financially stable life than those from previous generations. However, seniors today are at an increased risk of being diagnosed with a chronic condition, disability and/or mental health illness. Seniors are also at a greater risk of becoming lonely and/or socially isolated. Lack of social relationships, discontent with the quality of such relationships, or low levels of social engagement and participation, have damaging effects on the quality of life for Canadian seniors. According to a 2012 International Federation of Aging report commissioned by the Employment and Social Development Canada, the most prominent emerging issue seniors are facing is finding means to become, or remain, socially included and connected to their community.

Defining Loneliness and Social Isolation

While there is some commonality between loneliness and social isolation, it is crucial to note that not all intersections between these two concepts are entirely clear, and therefore, these terms should not be used interchangeably. Loneliness and social isolation can be defined and viewed in multiple ways.

“Loneliness is a dynamic state that varies across the life course and is influenced by the resources available to individuals and their socio-environmental context as well as individual personality traits.”[1] Loneliness “reflects an individual’s subjective evaluation of his or her social participation or social isolation and is the outcome of the cognitive evaluation of having a mismatch between the quantity and quality of existing relationships on the one hand and relationship standards on the other.”[2]Loneliness is an inevitable condition of life, and therefore, it is crucial to recognize that the feeling of loneliness is not something that can be entirely solved or cured.

Unlike loneliness, social isolation is an objective state that can be defined as a lack of social belongingness, the perception of missing relationships, or a lack of lasting interpersonal relationships. Similar to loneliness, “social isolation is multidimensional. It encompasses physical dimensions, mental health and psychological dimensions, and social dimensions. It can be more or less severe, and has a temporal dimension; that is, it could be permanent, periodic, or episodic if related to life cycles or life transition phases.”[3]

Social isolation is also defined as “a state in which the individual lacks a sense of belonging socially, lacks engagement with others, has a minimal number of social contacts and they are deficient in fulfilling quality relationships.”[4]

Prevalence of Loneliness and Social Isolation in Seniors

While loneliness and social isolation can occur at any point in life, research finds that loneliness is most common among older seniors and adolescents. Canada lacks statistics on the prevalence of loneliness in its ageing population. For example, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the prevalence of loneliness ranges anywhere from 10 to 90% depending on what definition is used and who the participants are.

The literature explains that Aboriginal seniors, visible minorities, newcomers, immigrants, caregivers, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered seniors, are all at an increased risk of becoming lonely and/or socially isolated. Older immigrants, minority ethnic groups, and lower income seniors are also at a higher risk of becoming lonely as they experience fewer social interactions due to factors such as language barriers, literacy, and discrimination. These individuals are also more likely to lack a sense of belongingness to their community.

Risk Factors

There are four sets of factors that are shown to be linked to loneliness and social isolation: socio-demographic attributes, the socio-environment, health status and health resources, and life transitions.

1. Socio-Demographics and Social Contexts

Living arrangements influences socialization patterns. Rates of severe loneliness for older people residing in care homes is estimated to be double of those who live in a community-dwelling. It is found that a change in residence or living alone may also increase one’s risk of becoming socially isolated. According to Canada’s National Seniors Council, lack of publicly funded long-term care facilities for seniors imposes additional risks that may increase an individual’s chance at experiencing social isolation.

The way in which a family is structured is also thought to be a risk factor for social isolation and/or loneliness in seniors. This includes younger family members migrating for work, having no children, having children who live far distances away, acting as a caregiver for family members, and the loss of siblings or other social networks.

Poverty is also believed to be a potential risk factor for loneliness and social isolation in seniors. Living in poverty is found to influence perceptions and experiences of prejudice and stigma, which seems to increase the likelihood of an individual becoming socially isolated as they are less likely to become involved in community activities, and instead, are more likely to distance themselves through self-isolating behaviours.

2. Socio-Environment

The built environment – whether there is an absence of affordable and suitable housing or lack of accessible and affordable transportation – will impact the prevalence of loneliness and social isolation in older adults. Another factor that may increase the likelihood of an older adult becoming lonely and/or socially isolated is the physical safety of their community.

Accessibility of services or access to information for services also increases the likelihood of seniors becoming lonely or socially isolated. Lack of affordable or suitable housing is also thought to be a possible risk factor. In fact, the prevalence of social isolation in older adults living in community-dwellings is estimated to range anywhere from 10% to as high as 43%.

3. Health Status and Health Resources

Living with a compromised health status has been identified as a risk factor for increased social isolation. Age-related conditions such as incontinence, weakness, fear of falling when going to and from places, or loss of independence have also been recognized as risk factors for social isolation. Loneliness and social isolation also tends to be a frequent companion of older adults living with chronic illnesses and other negative health outcomes. Lastly, limited access or inadequate primary health care services are recognized as a risk factor for increased loneliness and/or social isolation.

4. Life Transitions

Life transitions are unavoidable and can vary anywhere from the death of a spouse or partner, adult child, grandchild, or friends, to the experience of a traumatic or negative life event, decreased functional competence or increased incapacity in one’s partner, divorce, moving and retirement.

Canada’s National Seniors Council’s 2014 Report on the Social Isolation of Seniors suggests four specific measures to interrupt social isolation:

  1. Raise public awareness of social isolation of seniors;
  2. Promote improved access to information, services, and programs for seniors;
  3. Build the capacity of organizations to address isolation of seniors through social innovation;
  4. Support research to better understand the issue of social isolation.

Current approaches to social isolation and loneliness in seniors are not specific activities or interventions, but rather services designed to address one or more of the key challenges faced in working with seniors who are lonely. There is a high need for the government to collaborate with the ageing population to create and implement these programs.

In order to create new interventions that are effective, commissioners and funders of services that work with the ageing population must be able to identify areas in the community that are in need. We also need to see an increase in support service providers who deliver these interventions. Additional research needs to be done so a more comprehensive understanding of loneliness and social isolation in Canada can be developed.

Some examples of new interventions to interrupt social isolation and loneliness:

  • Use data and target action to identify services for specific populations at risk
  • Community engagement and collaboration
  • Link loneliness and social isolation interventions with health care services
  • Reconnect seniors with their social networks and communities
  • Design strategies to create meaningful social contacts and connections
  • Neighbourhood approaches
  • Promote opportunities for volunteerism

Conclusion

For future research, the British Columbia Ministry of Health suggests that we begin to explore how different ethnicities experience loneliness and social isolation, examine the relationship between loneliness and poverty, review transportation infrastructures and the effects it has on seniors, explore the experiences of caregivers whose partners live with a disability, examine the connections between social isolation and service usage, and look into what features of social support can enhance health.

More and more older Canadians are at risk of becoming socially isolated and/or lonely because of factors such as unsuitable living arrangements, a compromised health status, changing family structures, death of family members, and more. The risk factors for loneliness and social isolation in seniors is wide-ranging and immensely complex. Loneliness and social isolation is not a phenomenon that can be ignored any longer as its impact on Canada’s ageing population is too severe. This literature review has identified that, while there appears to be an extensive amount of knowledge referring to the causes, risks factors, consequences and interventions that seek to address loneliness and social isolation in seniors, numerous gaps still remain.

The full document Seniors: Loneliness and Social Isolation is available on Community Development Halton’s website.

 


[1] Victor, Christina R. "Loneliness in Care Homes: A Neglected Area of Research?" Aging Health (2012): 638.

[2] de Jong Gierveld, J., Tineke Fokkema, and Theo Van Tilburg. "Alleviating Loneliness among Older Adults: Possibilities and Constraints of Interventions." Safeguarding the Convoy: A Call to Action from the Campaign to End Loneliness 9 (2011): 41-42.

[3] Keefe, Kanice, Melissa Andrew, Pamela Fancey, and Madelyn Hall. "Final Report: A Profile of Social Isolation in Canada." 2006, 1.

[4]Nicholson, Jr, Nicholas R. “Social isolation in older adults: An evolutionary concept analysis.” Journal of Advanced Nursing 65 (2009): 1342-52.


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