On Thursday, December 14, 2017, the B.C. Seniors Advocate released the annual Monitoring Seniors' Services report. Their findings present further evidence that the B.C. government has to reverse the policies of austerity implemented under the BC Liberals. B.C.'s seniors need significant reinvestment in community services and affordable housing to undo the resulting increase in poverty now faced by the province's aging population.
The report lists several areas of concern for seniors in B.C., including the worsening affordability crisis, a decrease in home support services and adult programs, and increasing poverty among seniors.
"This report provides more evidence that austerity policies do nothing to improve the lives of British Columbians," said Stephanie Smith, BCGEU President. "To improve the lives of seniors in B.C., and all people of B.C., the government needs to have a central role investing in community health services as well as affordable housing."
The report states that the poverty rate for seniors has increased by 24 per cent since 2005, while services for seniors have been cut substantially during the same period. A shortage of workers and funding for home care has translated into shorter visits by home care workers, negatively impacting care. Since 2015/16 there has also been an 8 per cent decrease in the number of Adult Day Programs, which has put more seniors and their families in vulnerable situations.
The report also looks into the effects that the affordability crisis is having on seniors in B.C. Skyrocketing rents are putting greater strain on seniors who rent and have fixed incomes. Even seniors that own their homes are feeling the effects of the crisis as the cost of homeownership increases. Over the past year there was a 94 per cent increase in the number of new Property Tax Deferrals for homeowners over the age of 55, in part due to the increased tax burden on fixed incomes brought about by increased property values.
Earlier this year, the BCGEU made a series of recommendations to the province on how they can help stabilize housing prices. The proposal includes reforming property taxes, increasing protections for renters and building more affordable housing. These recommendations can go a long way in making life more affordable for B.C.'s seniors and ensuring they have a safe retirement without the fear of a real estate market crash.
Ultimately, increased poverty and a lack of services for seniors are the result of austerity policies, and only by reinvesting in our communities can the new government improve the lives of B.C.'s elderly. The BCGEU is hopeful that the new NDP government will take this report into account during the consultations for the B.C. poverty reduction strategy and that they will continue to increase funds for seniors' services in the upcoming February 2018 budget.