Are B.C. seniors getting short changed?

Seniors feeling financial pinch in B.C.

Low income seniors may not be getting enough information to know what supports and services are available to help keep them slipping into poverty, NDP Senior’s critic Selina Robinson said Friday, July 22.

And programs intended to help seniors most in need – like the $49 per month Seniors Supplement, which is called a ‘top-up’ to the federal Guaranteed Income Supplement – are not being adjusted to keep up with inflation. The Senior’s Supplement has not been increased for more than 25 years, even though the GIS has been increased 55 per cent over the same time period, Robinson pointed out.

Robinson was responding to a recent report by BC Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie which warned that seniors in British Columbia are seeing their incomes eroded faster than anywhere else in Canada.

Her July 13  report, based on StatsCan income data, said B.C. senior families have seen their annual median income fall by 5.7 percent since 2013. The picture is even grimmer for single seniors, who have seen their income drop by 6.3 percent.

That compares to national figures of a 1.9 percent increase in median income for senior families, and a 2.3 percent increase for single seniors.

“We have to start paying attention to what the data are telling us and stop listening to generationally divisive inaccurate generalizations that portray seniors as rich,” said Mackenzie.

“We know that seniors have the lowest median income of any age cohort over 25 and now we know that, in BC, seniors’ incomes are actually shrinking while other age groups are experiencing significant increases.”

In response to a query from the Chronicle, media spokesperson for B.C.’s Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation Corinna Filion provided details of programs and services available to seniors.

As well as the Seniors Supplement, which is available to seniors who receive either the GIS or Old Age Security payments from the federal government, low income seniors in B.C.:

• are eligible for the BC Bus Pass, which gives them access to transit systems ‘across the province’ for an annual administrative fee of $45, accessed by 65,000 seniors;

• a home renovation tax credit, that provides up to $1,000 with the cost of ‘certain home renovations’, accessed by 53,000 seniors;

• rental assistance through the Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters (SAFER) program, accessed by 20,000 seniors;

• assisted living and supportive seniors unites, accessed by 12,000 seniors.

Robinson said Mackenzie’s report suggests not enough is being done to keep B.C. seniors above the poverty line. “Rents are going up, MSP is going up, car insurance is going up, and the ability for seniors to live a full life is compromised,” she said.

Although there are programs available, “government hasn’t done a very good job letting seniors know about it,” Robinson said, noting that thousands of seniors have not applied for the SAFER program, even though they would be eligible.

Many low-income seniors may not be aware that they might be eligible for exemptions from MSP payments, Robinson said.

Government should be able to inform seniors, based on income information, about what kinds of programs they might be eligible for, Robinson said.

“Every single senior should know what’s available to them. These are not difficult things to fix and government is just not acting.”

She also stated that things like the Seniors Supplement should be adjusted for inflation.