BC seniors advocate Isobel Mackenzie spoke to a packed house at the Best Western in Nelson last week, explaining to those gathered the objectives of her newly created office and outlining how she plans to address seniors’ concerns in the Kootenays.
“When I first took this job — and I have traveled outside cities, but that was as a vacation — it was my first time going out and talking to people about their experiences in the communities where they live,” Mackenzie said.
“It’s simply gobsmacking to see the modest expectations people who live in rural BC have, and our lack of an ability to even meet those expectations.”
That’s where she comes in.
Mackenzie’s mandated responsibilities include monitoring the provision of seniors’ services in the areas of health, personal services, housing, transportation and income supports.
But there’s one particular issue that’s been drawing most of her attention so far: housing.
“I was blown away by the concern over housing that exists among seniors. Some is perceived, some is projecting to the future, and some of it is real,” she said, using the current statistics from Victoria and Vancouver to illustrate her point.
In both cities the shelter aid for elderly renters cap is lower than the price of the average one-bedroom.
“And their incomes aren’t going up, right? If you’re on pension income you’re getting incremental cost of living increases, but rent in this province is allowed to increase by cost of living plus two per cent. We do have rent control, it is controlled, but it’s beyond the rate of inflation.”
She said the government needs to be made aware of “the unintended consequences of things.”
As for rural housing, she put it thusly: “The problem with rural BC is there’s nothing to rent.”
And according to her, that makes no sense.
“I don’t subscribe to the notion that people choose to live where they live, because it occurs to me that this province has a whole plan that includes people living in rural British Columbia. If we want our plants and we want our natural resources extracted then we need people to do that and they’re not going to move here if they don’t think they can live here for the rest of their lives.”
Mackenzie shared a number of statistics and the results of studies her office has been doing on seniors, and she said some of the results were surprising.
“When you add it all together the story you see is two thirds of people over the age of 85 are living independently with no ongoing government-funded support.”
So not every senior is living in residential care or a hospital, as some may think.
“We have this impression that it’s all about health care, and we have to remember that the vast majority of seniors are living independently and that’s what we need to focus on. We need to talk care of the frail and the vulnerable, but not forget the folks who just need a little help to live independently.”
She also dispelled the myth that most seniors live alone: “Really it’s only about 26 per cent.”
She said the government is sympathetic to seniors’ concerns, and she’s going to work hard to address them.
“I don’t think anybody’s unsympathetic to this issue. I think government is really struggling with this. And this is just my observation, but a lot of the people making decisions, the bureaucratic support, they live in urban areas like Victoria and I think that’s reflected in some of the decisions they’ve made.”
For more information on Isobel Mackenzie and the Seniors Advocate Office visit seniorsadvocatebc.ca.