B.C. seniors’ poverty rate highest in Canada

Seniors’ poverty in British Columbia is the highest rate in the country, according to the B.C. Seniors’ Poverty Report Card released today by the Social Planning and Research Council of British Columbia (SPARC BC), in partnership with United Way of the Lower Mainland.

Seniors walking in Vancouver

The B.C. Seniors’ Poverty Report Card is the first of its kind and is based on the latest data available from Statistics Canada (2015). It consists of 13 fact sheets illustrating the scope of seniors’ poverty in British Columbia.

The report is available here.

Among the key findings:

B.C. has the highest seniors’ poverty rate in Canada

  • 8 per cent of seniors live in poverty, in B.C.
  • 6 per cent of seniors live in poverty, on average, across Canada

The number of seniors living in poverty has more than doubled since 2000

  • 33,780 seniors lived in poverty in 2000
  • 70,990 seniors lived in poverty in 2015

Single seniors are more than 3 times as likely to be poor than coupled seniors

  • 16 per cent of single seniors in B.C. live in poverty
  • 9 per cent of seniors in B.C. live in poverty, in coupled families

“The B.C. Seniors’ Poverty Report Card provides compelling evidence that 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.”

Seniors crossing street in Vancouver

Marilynn is an older adult who went from being a healthy older adult managing a gym and teaching yoga to barely being able to walk at 72. She has had a recent history of complex health issues including being diagnosed with cancer in 2014 and going blind.

Living below the poverty line, Marilynn has to choose between rising rent, transportation to medical appointments, and home care. Over a year ago, a dental bridge began to break down and became loose. Not being able to afford a repair or replacement, she couldn’t eat, and she became severely malnourished.

“When one portion of your health care fails,” reflects Marilynn, “it is a domino effect”.

Marilynn’s story illustrates how poverty is one of many determinants of health, and how poverty can worsen other negative impacts of seniors’ vulnerability. United Way takes a holistic approach that also includes preventing seniors’ vulnerability and isolation, keeping seniors active, and improving seniors’ community connectedness.

“Older adults living in poverty are often vulnerable and isolated,” said Kahir Lalji, Provincial Director of Healthy Aging at United Way of the Lower Mainland. “Every older adult is a part of a larger community, which is why holistic, community-based supports are essential to prevent and mitigate the negative impacts of poverty in their lives, and for their families and their caregivers.”

Senior walking with cane and bag

The B.C. Seniors’ Poverty Report Card is released as a 27-person panel struck by the Government of B.C. consolidates feedback from online and in-person community consultations on poverty solutions. Representatives from SPARC BC, United Way of the Lower Mainland and their partners were active, collaborative participants in the community engagement process, which took place from the fall of 2017 to spring 2018. Poverty reduction legislation is anticipated in fall 2018, with the province’s first poverty reduction strategy, expected to follow.

In 2017-2018, 60,000 seniors found vital connections in128 United Way-supported programs. These programs combine physical and social activities to help improve vulnerable seniors’ quality of life, so they stay independent and healthy, for as long as possible.

Want to help the seniors in your neighbourhood? United Way also manages 67 Better at Home programs across the province, and these programs rely heavily on volunteers to provide services to seniors.

Check out Better at Home’s website to find an opportunity near you.