Many seniors in British Columbia are living in poverty and are being pushed back further by a combination of inflation, rising rents and a lack of government support, according to a new report from BC Seniors Advocate.
Isobel Mackenzie also noted that a regional program aimed at helping with housing affordability is having the opposite effect on many older adults.
In her report “Being More Behind”, McKenzie criticized the district’s Assistance for Elderly Homestay (or SAFER) program. It helps low-income people get subsidies for their rent. However, McKenzie told reporters Thursday, because of the way it is calculated, some low-income people get less money even when their rents go up.
“This is somewhat meaningless,” she added.
The county says the program is under review, with recommendations expected in the coming months.
The report found that British Columbia’s minimum wage has risen by 40 percent over the past five years, while pension incomes have only risen by 14 percent over the same period. With the rising cost of rent, gas and groceries, the number of seniors who are suffering is also increasing.
With seniors serving seniors, Vicki Pilot said the stories were “tragic.”
Mostly non-profit deals with calls for help with affordability.
‘We already know homelessness in Victoria is a huge problem, but it’s even more painful when an 85-year-old calls you and says, ‘I have to go live in my car,’ the landlord raised the rent and said Pilot.
After housing, the second biggest demand is transportation. Seniors serving seniors hold workshops to help those with mobility issues get on the bus, which is a cheaper option than paying for gas and insurance.
In the new report, senior advocates in British Columbia called for the province to improve support for those aged 65 to 74 after finding high levels of poverty. The report found that one in four seniors live on less than $21,000 a year, and nearly half live on less than $31,000 a year. This is less than the minimum wage paid.
“They are the lowest income we have, and if they are renters, they are in great financial distress at the moment,” McKenzie added.
Pensions – the main source of income – have not kept pace with the rapid rise in rents. The advocate surveyed 10,000 seniors and found 84 percent of them said they ran out of money to buy food on occasion.
With limited incomes, seniors often pay out of their own pocket for medical or health support. Looking at nine provinces that offer services — including free eye exams, home support and hearing aids — the bureau found that across the country, British Columbia provided the fewest support: just two of nine. Alberta made seven.
The report also notes that the majority of seniors do not have a special benefits plan, forcing them to pay out of pocket for dental care, hearing aids, eyeglasses, walkers, wheelchairs and other necessary medical equipment.
Some of the report’s recommendations include indexing the British Columbia Seniors’ Extension for inflation, redesigning the SAFER program, increasing the number of subsidized housing units for seniors, and eliminating the rate of publicly funded home support services.
The latter, which is provided free of charge by provinces like Alberta and Ontario, is generally subsidized in British Columbia even though lower-income seniors don’t pay, McKenzie said someone who earns $28,000 gets 45 minutes of daily help with things Like showers, clothing, and medication, it can rack up bills for just under $9,000 a year.