BC Assistance for Seniors Lags Behind Other Provinces

Photograph by Dominik Lange (unsplash.com)

BC’s Seniors Advocate made several recommendations on Thursday aimed at helping seniors living independently make ends meet financially.

Isobel Mackenzie says the province’s subsidies for its senior citizens are lower than other provinces and fail to provide adequate assistance.

“When we look, at exactly what is provided to support seniors living in the community and how much it is costing them, a picture clearly emerges that many seniors are struggling and if we do not begin to address the gaps now, things will only get worse.”

Mackenzie released a report Thursday about the economic well-being of seniors in BC.

Mackenzie says 45 per cent of seniors in BC are living on less than minimum wage and 25 percent get less than $21,000 a year.

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The report also says the minimum wage has increased 40 per cent over the past five years while pension incomes have only risen 14 per cent during the same period.

In addition, the report says most seniors do not have a private benefits plan and “must pay out-of-pocket.”

Mackenzie says “whether it is about paying the rent, finding the money for major house repairs, dental care, home care, medications, or any of the many supports and services that we need as we age, there are many seniors who find the limits of their pension income a challenge.”

The seniors advocate notes that over the past 10 years rents have increased by 50 per cent while pension incomes rose just 25 per cent.

She adds that the SAFER program to help low income seniors with rent is failing in its goal of helping them stay below the threshold of paying 30 per cent of their income for housing.

Mackenzie says her office did a survey of 10-thousand seniors regarding their challenges and found half are concerned about being able to stay in their own homes as they age.

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She adds that 84 per cent report “running out of money to buy food some of the time,” and notes there’s been a 78 per cent increase in use of food banks by seniors in the last five years.

Among the highlights of the report by the Office of the Seniors Advocate of BC:

  • The 2019 median income for B.C. seniors was $30,750 a year, compared to $51,170 for the prime working age population and 25% of seniors earn an income less than $21,000.
  • 90 per cent of seniors receive pension income from Old Age Security (OAS) and Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and 28 per cent receive the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) top up for low- income seniors. On average, these pensions provide an annual income of $22,649
  • BC Seniors Supplement, a financial support provided by the Province for the lowest income seniors was doubled last year to a maximum of $99 per month but is the fourth lowest in the country and not indexed to inflation.
  • In the last 10 years, market rents have increased by 50 percent, the allowable rent increase jumped 34 per cent while pension incomes have risen just 25 per cent, in the same period.
  • The SAFER program is failing in its goal of 30 per cent of income to be spent on rent. Currently, SAFER recipients paying the average rent for a 1 bedroom in Vancouver will spend over 60 per cent of their income on rent and 80 per cent of SAFER recipients have incomes of less than $25,000.
  • The wait list for SSH has increased by 50 per cent in the last 5 years and only 8 per cent of applicants on the wait list were placed in a unit last year.
  • The average wait time for a SSH unit is three years, with 17 per cent of applicants waiting over five years.
  • 49 per cent of low-income senior homeowners report they cannot afford needed major repairs for safety or accessibility.
  • An estimated 16 per cent of seniors access the Property Tax Deferral Program
  • Seniors with an annual income of $28,000 will be charged $8,800 a year for a 45-minute daily visit of publicly subsidized home support.
  • There is no program to fund extended health benefits such as dental, eyeglasses, hearing aids or medical equipment leaving most seniors to pay the total cost.
  • 1 in 2 low-income seniors reports they are concerned, or very concerned, about being able to stay in their own home as they age.
  • 84 per cent of low-income seniors report running out of money to buy food some of the time.
  • There was a 78 per cent increase in use of food banks by B.C. seniors in the last five years.

Office of the Seniors Advocate of BC report makes ten recommendations.

  1. Index the BC Seniors Supplement to inflation consistent with other income supports, such as GIS/OAS and CPP.
  2. Redesign the Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters (SAFER) program to reflect the current reality of the B.C. rental market and ensure yearly rent increases are recognized.
  3. Increase the number of Seniors Subsidized Housing Units with a particular focus on rural B.C. where the overall supply of rental accommodation for seniors is most challenging.
  4. Increase awareness of the Property Tax Deferral Program and examine an expansion of the program for low- and modest-income seniors to defer other costs such as strata fees, hydro costs and other municipal charges. Examine how seniors living in co- operative housing might be able to take advantage of the program.
  5. Develop a program to assist low- and modest-income seniors with major home repairs.
  6. Eliminate the daily rate for publicly funded home support services.
  7. Provide an extended health benefit for seniors that includes eyeglasses, hearing aids, mobility aids and necessary medical equipment. The cost of the plan could be covered by premiums based on income, ensuring it is an affordable option for all B.C. seniors.
  8. Work with the federal government to ensure dental coverage for seniors with co-payments and deductibles based on income or include in an overall extended benefit plan.
  9. Provide an annual province-wide bus pass for all seniors that includes handyDART. The fee for the pass could be based on a sliding scale matched to income.
  10. Develop a comprehensive plan to build the capacity of seniors’ centres across B.C. to better support social engagement and help support older people access the supports and services they need to continue to live independently.