Over a six-week period, as part of the ‘Out of Pocket’ series, Global News is examining how inflation is impacting Canadians from coast to coast.
Cathy Burton worked in the golf industry for 37 years. She played professionally and then coached in Manitoba and Alberta.
She did not expect to be out of work and on disability at the age of 61.
“Three years without work has been a real hardship for me,” Burton said. “I’ve had to sell my car.”
After five years as a dialysis patient, Burton had a kidney transplant in 2020. However, her recovery did not go as planned. She suffered several infections and was prescribed various medications.
On New Year’s Eve she ended up in a Calgary hospital emergency room. She was losing vision in her right eye. Just two months later, she lost vision in her left eye.
“It’s been quite a transformation for me to get used to not having much sight.”
That’s not the only adjustment Burton has had to make. She’s also learning to live on a fixed income.
“With the federal disability that I receive — the CPP disability — I take in $1,180 a month and my mortgage payments are $1,200.”
Last year, Burton was the recipient of the PGA Canada Foundation’s Benevolent Fund, which covered most of her household expenses.
“That was extremely helpful. I don’t think that I would have been able to keep my home. I think that would have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.
“I was so immunocompromised and so close after the transplant, I couldn’t see a way forward if I didn’t receive that.”
Burton does not qualify for AISH (Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped) and she doesn’t meet the criteria for Alberta’s recently announced affordability payments.
She’s had to use her line of credit to cover basic expenses.
In the wake of a trifecta of challenges — pandemic, job loss and health issues — Burton is also facing inflation at the highest level it’s been in a generation.
Since she doesn’t have the option of increasing the amount of money coming in, she’s forced to reduce the amount going out. For Burton, that means careful budgeting, using flyers and tracking sales, and making sacrifices when it comes to grocery shopping.
“I haven’t had a salad in probably two years,” she told Global News.
Grocery prices were up 11 per cent in December 2022 compared with a year ago, Statistics Canada said. Overall, grocery prices were up 9.8 per cent in 2022 compared with a year earlier — the fastest pace since 1981.
Burton is trying to be creative — buying food that lasts longer and costs less, like frozen vegetables and starches.
“For example, I would make a shepherd’s pie but I would add other ingredients to make it more filling. Making hamburgers, I would add rice or mashed potatoes into the hamburger to make it go further. I’m just trying anything.”
She’s also finding ways to trim other household expenses.
“Around the house, I keep the temperature around 15 Celsius.
“I also have battery-operated sensor lights on my stairs so when I go up and down at nighttime, those lights come on. I also have them under my counters.”
Burton boils water in a kettle to wash her dishes in the sink and has been taking shorter showers.
But there are certain things that are out of her control.
“I expect my taxes will go up,” Burton said. “My property value has gone up $113,000 in two years. That’s a lot.
“How do I figure all that out? Insurance has gone up for the house. It is overwhelming as I say all those things but I’m trying my best.”
An Ipsos poll of 1,004 adult Canadians conducted exclusively for Global News between Dec. 14 and Dec. 16, 2022, found 36 per cent of respondents had reduced spending on non-essentials like entertainment and travel, while 27 per cent had cut back spending on essentials such as food or clothing to pay for other basic needs.
Social programs that offer supports to Albertans are seeing much higher demand.
“We talk about families that are just on the cusp,” said Murtaza Jamaly. “They’re just barely making ends meet.
“Well, these are the times that we’re seeing those people are being pushed over the edge.”
Jamaly, who is based in Westlock, is board president of the Family and Community Support Services Association of Alberta.
“We’ve seen a huge influx of people through the door for a variety of reasons,” he said. “We know that programs are more heavily subscribed to in recent years and we know that donations are down in certain programs that are donation-run just because there’s less out there to give.”
FCSS has been providing preventive programs — like homelessness prevention, poverty reduction and aging in place — in Alberta for more than 50 years.
In an informal survey, 90 per cent of FCSS offices said their community has seen an increased demand for programming by people on fixed incomes as a result of inflation.
Staff said the programs seeing the biggest intake increase include help applying for Alberta Supports or other income support, subsidized transit and subsidized recreation programs, referrals to food banks, information and referrals to affordable, low-income housing options, free kids’ activities, seniors outreach, counselling or mental health help.
Many FCSS workers said they’re seeing more crisis and emergency cases than prevention, which is their official mandate.
“We need to ensure that we protect prevention as a service because when we see massive need in interventive services — when we see the homeless shelters are overrun, when we see the food banks don’t have enough food or enough funding — this is a result of a lack of prevention or a lack of being able to offer these types of services long-term,” Jamaly said.
And those on fixed incomes are even more vulnerable.
“The cheque that you receive, is it enough to pay for rent, for transportation, for clothing, for food?”
Those are the kinds of questions Burton hopes policymakers are asking themselves.
“I think both the federal and the provincial government really need to look at: who are we helping? Are we really helping the people who need the funds or are we just painting a broad brush and saying, ‘This should cover a bunch of people.’
“I just don’t think they’re really in touch with what’s really going on. It’s just so expensive to run a home.
“They need to come and sit in my shoes and then tell me how I’m going to pay my bills.”