“Our seniors built the country and we should be taking better care of them.”
Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett said Tuesday’s report, showing that B.C.’s seniors’ poverty rate is the highest in Canada, is shocking.
The report, released by the Social Planning and Research Council of B.C. and Lower Mainland United Way, puts B.C.’s seniors’ poverty rate at nearly 9 per cent. The national average is just under 7 per cent, while B.C. sits at 8.8 percent.
100 Mile House, 108 Mile Ranch and Lone Butte were all listed on the report with 4.9 per cent, 3.6 per cent and 5.3 per cent respectively.
Barnett, who is a senior herself, said the generation who has gone to war and made Canada what it is today “deserve better.”
“The whole seniors’ issue needs to be re-looked at,” she said, adding that the federal government ought to reevaluate the old age pension and perhaps the programs that are supposed to make seniors’ lives easier.
According to the report, single seniors who live on their own face the direst conditions, and are three times more likely to be poor than those in couples or who are living with family.
Barnett said she sees how much harder it is for a senior who has lost their spouse and is trying to live off only one fixed income.
“Government always says seniors need to be independent,” she said. “If they’re going to keep being independent, as they should be, they deserve more pension, more home support, they deserve a lot more help.”
Barnett said she believes there should be advocates for seniors everywhere, so their issues can be addressed locally, and that seniors should be encouraged to speak out.
“Many seniors are scared to speak out,” she said. “They’re scared that if they speak out against something that they’re getting a little bit of, then they won’t get any.”
She said she sees a lot of seniors in her office who are afraid to complain because they don’t want things to get worse.
In some cases there are people in wheelchairs or those who are mentally stable but have physical challenges, she said. “There’s very little help for them.”
The focus is often on housing and transportation, according to Barnett, but she said we ought to be focussing on the people, themselves.
“The government keeps saying there is help out there … there’s some, but it’s not sufficient.”
More than half of the population of the South Cariboo is 55 or older.
Ralph Fossum, chair of the Age-Friendly Society of the South Cariboo, said he definitely sees seniors in the area who struggle because they are “totally reliant on their old [age] pension plus a supplement.”
The old age pension and supplement comes up to roughly $1,100 per month, according to Fossum.
“Paying rent or maintaining a house is extremely difficult with that kind of income and nothing else.”
Fossum said he sees a total range here. There are seniors who have a good pension and are doing very well for themselves. Then there are those he encounters who are “hard-pressed to make it.”
“Fortunately the cost of living here is not like the cost of living in the big cities,” he said.
There are local sources for food provisions through the food bank and loaves and fishes, he said, “so we don’t see too many people really going without. But I will say it’s certainly tight.”
The most obvious solution, Fossum suggested, would be to increase the supplement for seniors who have very little CPP or no pension. “That would certainly catch the lowest percentage.”
The seniors’ poverty report card was compiled by a 27-person panel and includes feedback from online and in-person community consultations.
The report relies on Statistics Canada’s low-income measure, which calculates median household income divided by the number of members living in the home.
Based on Statistics Canada projections, more than one million seniors are expected to be living in B.C. by 2021, the report says.
The report has been released ahead of poverty reduction legislation that’s anticipated in fall 2018, SPARC BC said, with the province’s first strategy to follow.
The strategy is expected to be informed by Social Development Minister Shane Simpson’s recent a tour across B.C. where he hosted poverty reduction community meetings in cities such as Nanaimo, Smithers and Nelson.