B.C. seniors feel ‘invisible and forgotten,’ new advocate says

B.C.’s seniors are feeling “invisible and forgotten,” and are falling thorough the cracks in existing provincial support systems, according to the new advocate.

In his first report in the role, Dan Levitt says affordability was the top concern during visits with hundreds of seniors in more than 20 communities in April.

His report notes many seniors are unable to absorb increased costs for housing, food, medical equipment, mobility aids, and other necessities for healthy aging. Levitt says seniors on fixed incomes are disproportionately affected by these costs.

“I think seniors feel like they’re invisible. They feel like their voices don’t matter,” Levitt told CityNews Wednesday, adding seniors have been voicing concerns for years.

“That’s why one of the recommendations we’ve made is to see a government plan, through the Ministry of Health, for a seniors’ plan. We want to see those silos, if you will — think of transportation, think of health care, you think of income support, community supports, all those things together with housing — we want to see one plan that coordinates everything. I think that would give the voice of seniors the kind of recognition it deserves, and I think they would feel less isolated, less lonely, and less excluded from society, generally.”

In addition, Levitt is calling for the province to immediately increase the Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters (SAFER) program, to ensure no senior is paying more than 30 per cent of their income on rent, as well as the elimination of the daily rate charge for home supports.

He notes some seniors spend around $9,000 annually on home care. Costs alone, he says, can create a financial barrier for seniors who need help living independently in their own homes.

Levitt says one in four seniors in B.C. earn less than $23,000 a year, which is below the poverty line, and more seniors are at risk of homelessness.

“I have to be optimistic. My approach is to see the glass overflowing. Unfortunately, when I went around the province, that’s not the reality on the ground, where seniors are experiencing hardships and some very tough situations. I am optimistic, in particular around the home support issue. I really think that is something that you don’t have to build anything, you can simply increase the budget. I know it’s a big ask but I think it’s something that they should do and you see it in other provinces,” Levitt said.

Other recommendations include providing a shingles vaccine program to seniors in B.C. at no cost to them, as well as increasing the amount of the BC Seniors Supplement, indexing it to inflation.

“We will be looking at systemic reviews down the road that will be longer term that will take more investment, like long-term care. But I think the government can take action immediately to make the kinds of changes that would provide a better quality of life for seniors and make their needs a priority for all of us,” Levitt added.

“It is estimated that one in four British Columbians will be over 65 by 2036, which is more seniors as a proportion of the population than at any other time in our history.”

-With files from The Canadian Press