National Caregivers Strategy Long Overdue

CARP calls on the government to develop a national strategy to support caregivers.

Canada has an estimated 5 million unpaid caregivers – family members, friends and neighbours – who provide about 80 per cent of all care in the community. Caregivers also give support to countless patients in hospitals and long term care facilities. Yet, caregiving can be extremely demanding, often straining caregivers’ physical, psychological and financial resources to the breaking point. Exhaustion, burnout, illness, job loss, and disruption to home life are common, yet avoidable, caregiver risks. Without the help of a caregiver, many older Canadians could not cope at home, and would be admitted to a costly acute care or long term care facility.

For these reasons, CARP has been calling on the federal government to develop a national strategy to support caregivers, which should include the following:

*a distinct EI fund and a CPP stop-out provision for those who leave work to provide eldercare;

*flexible hours and reasonable leaves of absence for those who continue to work;

*access to supports that give caregivers a break from the heavy demands of caregiving, and

*assistance in re-entering the paid workforce after caregiving has ceased.

In 2005 CARP was very encouraged when the Hon. Tony Ianno, former Liberal Minister of State (Families and Caregivers) led an initiative to establish a national caregivers strategy. CARP was part of a broad cross-section of health and consumer groups that had strongly urged and supported the Minister to take this action. This innovative and timely step would have launched Canada down the road toward a compassionate caregiver policy.

However, CARP was deeply concerned when this groundbreaking work was abandoned by the Harper government. Since then, we have been pushing federal officials and politicians to reopen this initiative. In our presentation to Finance Minister Flaherty’s pre-budget consultation, we urged that $2 billion be included in the federal budget to fund a national caregivers strategy. CARP is disappointed that the Minister did not act on our recommendation, leaving caregivers across the country once again, without the support they urgently need.

The time for action is long overdue. Canada’s population is aging rapidly. The Harper government must show leadership on this key issue to avoid putting at further risk the health and well-being of millions of older adults and their caregivers.