Incomes declining for B.C. seniors, advocates say

Some seniors in Williams Lake are making tough choices every day because of poverty.

Some seniors in Williams Lake are making tough choices every day because of poverty, said Canadian Mental Health homelessness worker Wayne Lucier.

“It’s sad to have to say they are wondering if they should buy groceries, pay their hydro, spend a dollar to get on the bus or do they buy a pack of noodles,” Lucier told the Tribune Thursday. “It’s getting worse.”

Lucier has been saying for a while that in five or six years when his generation is ready to retire, there won’t be enough affordable housing available in the city.

“Many people have to move out of their houses because they cannot afford to live in them anymore. It’s going to be a huge problem.”

In the last two weeks, Lucier has also seen someone coming into his office every day — aged 30 years and up — asking for gift cards because they’ve paid all their rent and have no money left for groceries.

“The average rent in town for one bedroom now is $650 and welfare cheques don’t cover that,” he added.

This week, B.C.’s Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie also expressed concerns about the declining income of seniors.

It is particularly acute in B.C. relative to other parts of the country, according to Statistics Canada’s latest income survey released last week, she said.

Since 2013, B.C. senior families saw their annual median income fall 5.7 per cent and for a B.C. single senior, the decline is even steeper, with a 6.3 per cent drop since 2013. This compares to the national averages, which show a 1.9 per cent increase for senior families and a 2.3 per cent increase for single seniors.

“We have to start paying attention to what the data is telling us and stop listening to generationally divisive inaccurate generalizations that portray seniors as rich,” said Mackenzie. “Median income gives us one of the best measures of incomes, as it is not distorted by the very high or very low incomes of small minorities. We know that seniors have the lowest median income of any age cohort over 25 and now we know that, in B.C, seniors’ incomes are actually shrinking while other age groups are experiencing significant increases.”

Mackenzie points out the reason for the decreases vary, but record low interest rates, life expectancy exceeding the time frame of a Registered Retirement Income Fund (RRIF), and the inability of private pensions to provide cost of living increases all contribute.

In B.C., the lowest income seniors (54,000) receive the BC Seniors Supplement, which has remained the same amount for over 25 years.

“We also need to remember that, while most seniors do not have a mortgage, over 20 per cent are renters and 35 per cent do not live in one of the over-heated real estate markets,” said Mackenzie. “There are definitely seniors in the Lower Mainland and Greater Victoria with a great amount of equity in their homes, but we need to find a way that will responsibly allow seniors to access their equity, while also recognizing that some areas of the province are experiencing stagnant house values.”

Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett said MSP premiums will be changing in 2017, with the ceiling going up for seniors.

“From time to time we will get a senior in my office looking for help to apply for the rental supplement if they need it,” Barnett said.

“We’ve done a lot of work filling out MSP forms because some seniors didn’t realize they were entitled to a refund. They’d been paying too much.”