B.C. seniors’ poverty rate highest in Canada: report

Study paints picture of low-income seniors in B.C. ahead of anticipated NDP legislation this fall

B.C. has the highest rate of seniors in poverty compared to the rest of Canada, according to a provincial report card intending to offer the full scope of what life is like for thousands of struggling seniors.

The Social Planning and Research Council of B.C. and Lower Mainland United Way released the first-of-its-kind report card on Tuesday. It was compiled by a 27-person panel and includes feedback from online and in-person community consultations.

“Seniors’ poverty is a growing challenge across our province,” said Scott Graham, associate executive director and manager of research, planning and consulting with SPARC BC. “It provides clear evidence that specific poverty-reduction strategies for seniors are necessary.”

Nearly nine per cent of people in B.C. aged 65 and older are living in poverty, the report said, compared to the national average of just under seven per cent.

Seniors facing the most dire conditions are single and live on their own, and are three times more likely to be poor than senior couples or those living with family.

About 6,000 seniors are currently on BC Housing’s registry, as the number of homeless seniors has tripled.

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. As of 2015, Statistics Canada determined $56,000 in yearly income was the median salary for a senior in Canada. The poverty threshold is based on a person spending 30 per cent of their income on basic necessities such as food and shelter.

READ MORE: Delays slow B.C.’s promised plan to reduce poverty, minister said

According to this calculation, of the 123 communities in B.C. where fewer than 500 seniors live, only three of those areas had fewer than 20 poor seniors.

The regions hit hardest by poverty correlate with a lack of housing affordability, particularly in Metro Vancouver.

According to 2015 statistics, Richmond, Surrey and Burnaby had the highest rates of seniors’ poverty in B.C., with 20.3 per cent, 16.5 per cent and 16.1 per cent, respectively.

Shane Simpson, minister of social development and poverty reduction, discusses what he hopes B.C.’s poverty reduction strategy will look like when it comes out near the end of March. (Black Press Media files)

Other areas where many seniors are facing high levels of poverty include Bella Coola and the surrounding area, known as the Central Coast Regional District, where the entire region has a seniors’ poverty rate of nearly 15 per cent.

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 tour across B.C. where he hosted poverty reduction community meetings in cities such as Nanaimo, Smithers and Nelson.


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