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B.C. ranked lowest in financial support programs for seniors: Advocate

Many B.C. seniors are living in poverty and falling further and further behind due to a combination of inflation, increasing rents, and a lack of government supports, according to a new report from the B.C. Seniors Advocate.

Isobel Mackenzie also noted that a provincial program meant to help with housing affordability is actually having the opposite effect for many seniors.

In her report "Falling Further Behind" Mackenzie slammed the province's Shelter Aid For Elderly Renters (or SAFER) program. It helps those with low incomes get subsidies for their rents. However, Mackenzie told reporters Thursday, because of how it's calculated, some low income people get less money even when their rents go up.

"This borders a bit on the nonsensical," she added.

The province says the program is under review, with recommendations expected in the coming months.

The report found that the minimum wage in B.C. has increased by 40 per cent over the past five years, while pension incomes have only risen by 14 per cent during that same period. With the cost of rent, gas and groceries rising, so too is the number of seniors struggling.

Vicki Pilot with Seniors Serving Seniors said the stories "are tragic."

The non-profit deals mostly with calls for help with affordability.

"We already know homelessness in Victoria is a huge issue, but it just hurts even more when you have an 85-year-old man phoning you and saying, 'I have to go and live in my car, the landlord upped the rent and we can't afford it,'" said Pilot.

After housing, the next biggest ask is transportation. Seniors Serving Seniors holds workshops to help those with mobility issues take the bus, a cheaper option than paying for gas and insurance.

In the new report, B.C.'s seniors advocate is calling on the province to improve supports to those aged 65 to 74 after finding high levels of poverty. The report found one in four seniors lives on less than $21,000 a year, and about half live on less than $31,000 a year. That's less than minimum wage pays.

"They are our lowest-income people and if they're renting they are in significant financial straights right now," added Mackenzie.

Pensions – the main income source – haven't kept up with the rapid rise in rent. The advocate surveyed 10,000 seniors and found 84 per cent said they ran out of money to buy food some of the time.

With limited incomes, seniors often pay out-of-pocket for medical or health supports. When looking at nine services provinces provide – including free eye exams, home support and hearing aids – the office found that across the country, B.C. provided the lowest number of supports: just two out of nine. Alberta provided seven.

The report also suggests that the majority of seniors do not have a private 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 BC Seniors Supplement to inflation, redesigning the SAFER program, increasing the number of seniors' subsidized housing units, and eliminating the rate for publicly funded home support services.

The latter, provided for free by provinces like Alberta and Ontario, is publicly subsidized in B.C. Although the lowest-income seniors don't pay, Mackenzie said someone earning $28,000 and getting 45 minutes of daily help with things like bathing, clothing and medications, could get billed just under $9,000 a year. Top Stories

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