Personal Best: Wealthy is not the reality

Pat Black says the new B.C. seniors advocate is a welcome and much-needed addition to the province

Have you seen recent items in the media lately that talk about wealthy seniors ripping off business and government by receiving discounts and rebates simply because of their age although living in relative affluence? Even Maclean’s magazine has encouraged this point of view with the headline, “Old. Rich. Spoiled.” Sounds good, but as usual in media hype, it is untrue.

Isobel Mackenzie, first B.C. seniors advocate, found that stereotyping seniors as wealthy does not reflect the reality for many B.C. seniors.  In her press release Oct. 10, 2014, she states that stereotyping seniors as wealthy does not reflect the reality for many B.C. seniors and what she found instead is “incomplete information that has resulted in a mis-representation of the economic plight of many seniors.”  The release also tells us that Statistics Canada pegs the 2011 median income for those over 65 at $23,700. This means that 50 per cent of seniors in Canada are living on less than $23,700 per year, (referred to by some as the poverty line) with the majority living alone. The median income for 35 to 44-year-olds is $43,300 with the overwhelming majority living in a two-person household, sharing costs that are often borne by the single senior. Here in British Columbia alone, we have more than 52,000 seniors who are living on $16,300 per year or less. Yes that is 52,000 seniors living on government pensions alone and living in poverty.

Some forget that seniors also make significant contributions to our communities. We know that the greatest amount of volunteering is done by seniors and more significant are the millions of hours of care that is provided every year in this country by seniors to their spouses, families, and in some cases, their parents. If seniors didn’t do the care provision and volunteering in the community the cost to all levels of government would be staggering.

Mackenzie was appointed as the long promised seniors advocate in March 2014 and should be a great resource for seniors. This appointment was made under the Seniors Advocate Act of British Columbia, as part of the B.C. Government’s Seniors Action Plan. The advocate is given wide scope to examine and advocate for seniors on issues related to: health care, personal care, transportation, housing, income supports. In addition the advocate will: monitor services,  provide information and referral, analyze systemic issues, and provide recommendations to governments and service providers on any improvements that can be made. A big job and badly needed.

Immediately after being appointed, she undertook a province-wide tour of 26 urban and rural communities throughout B.C. and met with thousands of seniors, family members, stakeholders and service providers. She produced an excellent report entitled The Journey Begins Together and I will write more about this later. This document is available by contacting the office of the seniors advocate at www.seniorsadvocatebc.ca or phoning 1-877-952-3181 or writing the Office of the Seniors Advocate, 1st Floor, 1515 Blanshard St., PO Box 9651, STN PROV GOVT, Victoria, B.C., V8W 9P4.

Pat Black writes about issues of concern to North Okanagan seniors, appearing every other Sunday.