VICTORIA – Leading advocates in British Columbia criticized the province’s government on Thursday for providing the lowest level of financial support for seniors in any province as a report showed people 65 and older were drowning under the weight of rising costs.
Isobel Mackenzie’s report found that federal old-age insurance and Canada Pension Plan payments for seniors did not increase enough to cover rising costs for groceries, dental care, home care, home repair and other necessities.
“Older people in British Columbia do not receive the same level of financial support and services as seniors in other provinces and territories across the country,” McKenzie said at a news conference in Victoria.
McKenzie said 45 percent of the county’s 1 million seniors live on less than minimum wage, and 25 percent live on less than $21,000 a year, compared to the $51,170 annual income that working-age residents receive. She noted that the minimum wage has risen by 40 percent in the past five years, but pension income has only risen by 14 percent in that period.
Linda, 71, who lives in a subsidized apartment building in south Surrey funded by the Crescent Housing Association, said the government was “ignoring” lower-income seniors.
Linda, who did not want her last name to be mentioned because she worried about the stigma attached to being low-income seniors.
Linda, who lives on $19,000 a year, said BC Housing has “failed miserably” when it comes to providing affordable housing for low-income seniors. She said she was fortunate to find a one-bedroom apartment in an below-market rental building in 2007 when she was two weeks away from becoming homeless after losing her rented accommodation.
She said seniors on fixed incomes “do not have a sense of hope and self-sufficiency”. “You choose between food or some of these other things. It’s really horrible out there.”
The report compared British Columbia to other provinces and territories based on funding for nine services for seniors, including services related to home support, eye exams, eye glasses, dental care, hearing aids, monthly income supplements, home repair, home adaptation, and affordable rental programs. .
BC offers only two of these services, the worst result in Canada. Even these two services have faced criticism from McKinsey.
The BC Seniors supplement, a $99 per month payment for low-income seniors, is the fourth lowest in the country. Its main recommendation is that the boost be linked to inflation.
McKenzie said the county’s rent supplement, Shelter Assistance for the Aged, or SAFER, is failing to meet its goal of ensuring that seniors spend only 30 percent of their income on rent. For example, large, low-income renters who pay the average one-bedroom rent in Vancouver will spend more than 60 percent of their income on housing. Just over 20 percent of the county’s seniors are renters.
She urged the province to reform the program to better match annual rent increases.
McKenzie said the county through BC Housing also has a subsidized housing program for seniors, but the waiting list is nearly three years long with some waiting as long as five years. The province recommended increasing the number of subsidized housing units for the elderly, especially in rural British Columbia
The report also found that most seniors do not have a special benefits plan and, as a result, pay out of pocket for dental care, hearing aids, eyeglasses, walkers, wheelchairs, and any other essential medical equipment not funded by the government.
For those who live in their own homes, McKenzie said, many are in a bind for costs the county must incur, such as funding for domestic support workers who provide daily or weekly check-in services. For example, seniors with an annual income of $28,000 per year will be charged for a daily 45-minute home support visit.
McKinsey acknowledged that the 10 recommendations in its report would cost more money. However, she said, if seniors can’t live at home because of rising costs, it could push more seniors into long-term care prematurely, increasing the health care system’s costs.
Mary-Noel Campbell, executive director of Seniors First BC, a Vancouver-based nonprofit advocacy group for seniors, agreed with McKenzie’s assessment that the situation was getting worse.
“More and more people are facing eviction every day, they are unable to pay their bills,” Campbell said. Adding to that pressure, she said, is that when seniors apply for some benefits like the Canada Emergency Response Benefit during the pandemic, other benefits are rolled back.
Ian Rankin Minister Responsible As for housing, he said in a statement that the limited supply of rents and the rapid rise in rents across British Columbia “created an environment where the supplement amount covers a smaller portion of the total rent than in the past.”
As a result, Rankin said BC Housing is “currently reviewing the SAFER program, and recommendations on how to better support seniors with housing costs are expected in the coming months.”
Poverty Reduction Minister Nicholas Simmons was not available for comment, but his ministry said in a statement that the NDP government doubled the Seniors’ Supplement last year, the first increase in the Supplement since it was introduced in 1987. The department said the supplement’s entitlement has been expanded to 20,000 Seniors .
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