B.C. seniors receiving less support than in other provinces: report

Gaia Cares volunteers were at the May Wah Hotel in Chinatown distributing 8,000 kilograms of rice to 1,400 vulnerable seniors. The organization says Vancouver food banks are experiencing a surge in clients - thanks to the recent spike in food prices.

British Columbia’s seniors’ advocate has found the province provides less support for seniors than other provinces in nine key areas.

The report BC Seniors: Falling Further Behind was released by seniors advocate Isobel Mackenzie on Thursday morning.

Findings from the report show most seniors in B.C. rely on government pensions to form the bulk of their retirement income.

The federal Old Age Security and Canada Pension Plan are used by 90 per cent of those 65 and over in the province.

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When all income sources are considered, the 2019 median income for B.C. seniors was $30,750 a year, compared to $51,170 for the prime working-age population.

“In B.C., we have some of the highest costs in the country, yet our seniors do not receive the same level of overall support offered in other provinces,” Mackenzie wrote in the report.

“This may, in part, explain why B.C. has a relatively higher proportion of low-care needs seniors entering long-term care prematurely if they find the costs of aging in place too much. If this trend continues, we could find our health-care system facing even greater pressures than we are experiencing today.”

Housing continues to be the greatest financial pressure on seniors, with the number of B.C. seniors in core housing growing by 17 per cent between 2011 and 2016.

B.C. does provide a rent subsidy, the Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters (SAFER) for those aged 60 and older and people with disabilities, but the program caps the amount of rent that it will subsidize and the number of income people can earn to qualify.

While the average monthly rent in Vancouver is $1,434 a month, the SAFER subsidy rent is capped at $803 per month.

“For the majority of SAFER recipients, this means that when both their rent and income increase their SAFER subsidy will be reduced,” the report reads.

“This in part explains why the average SAFER subsidy has fallen by nine per cent in the last 4 years despite increasing rents.”

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For those who own a home, there is no provincial program to assist low-income seniors with the costs of home repairs.

The report showing 49 per cent of low-income homeowners report needing major repairs but can not afford them.

On the health front, B.C. provides home support services to assist seniors, as they age, with personal care needs.

The service is provided free of charge to seniors in receipt of the GIS but all others will be assessed a daily rate based on their income and this is the amount they will pay for each day they receive home support services.

The home support daily rate calculation requires seniors with an annual income of $28,000 to pay $8,800 a year if they were to receive a 45-minute daily visit of home support.

The majority of B.C. seniors do not have a private benefit plan and are required to pay out of pocket for the full costs of dental care, eyeglasses, hearing aids or mobility aids.

All British Columbians, including seniors, are eligible for a subsidy for medications through the Fair PharmaCare plan but 1 in 4 low-income seniors report being prescribed medications they cannot afford.

There is also no funding to assist B.C. seniors to purchase or rent mobility aids such as wheelchairs, scooters, lifts or hospital-type beds for home use.

The report includes 10 recommendations including indexing the BC Seniors Supplement to inflation consistent with other income supports such as GIS/OAS and CPP and redesigning the SAFER program to reflect the current reality of the B.C. rental market and ensuring yearly rent increases are recognized.

Other recommendations

  • Increase the number of Seniors Subsidized Housing Units with a particular focus on rural B.C.
  • Increase awareness of the Property Tax Deferral Program
  • Develop a program to assist low- and modest-income seniors with major home repairs.
  • Eliminate the daily rate for publicly funded home support services.
  • Provide an extended health benefit for seniors that includes eyeglasses, hearing aids, mobility aids and necessary medical equipment.
  • 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.
  • Provide an annual province-wide bus pass for all seniors that includes handyDART.
  • Develop a comprehensive plan to build the capacity of seniors’ centres across B.C.

 

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