CARP Calls for National Caregiver Strategy to be included in Federal budget for 2009

Most of us want to age at home as long as possible, thereby increasing reliance on family and friend networks to help fill service gaps as we encounter them. Government should, and have, promised to help…. But Canada has yet to see a comprehensive caregiver strategy that will help caregivers manage the increased burden they will shoulder as the number of older adults requiring assistance doubles by 2031. Many caregivers are aged 45+ and are part of what is called “the sandwich generation”, a term referring to those coping with the dual responsibilities of caring after both their parents as well as children.

It is estimated that that there are approximately 5 million informal Canadian caregivers saving the government up to $6-9 billion a year in health care expenses. However, their contributions come at a price: caregivers are reporting high emotional and financial stress levels. Many report being forced to take at least one month off work or even leaving work entirely in order to fulfill their duties. It is time for the Federal Government to step in and invest in an infrastructure that will allow them to continue levering caregivers’ volunteer labour as well as allow caregivers to continue helping their families. These are costs which might otherwise come from the public purse: if the caregiver is forced to take on social assistance (and also compromise their pension security in the process) or if the government is obliged to subsidize the cost of a nursing home. In the end, the government will do well by doing good.

CARP recommends the government commit to the implementation of a National Caregiver Strategy that will ensure family caregivers are able to continue their work by providing them with financial support, workplace protection as well as integration with the formal health care system. Other countries such as Sweden, Germany, France and the U.-K. have all implemented strategies that are very generous and more comprehensive when compared to the Canadian system. Via maternity and parental benefits, we have already recognized the importance of helping families through precarious stages in life. It is now time to also allow caregivers to enjoy increased support and benefits when they most need them.

We advocate for an amendment to the Canadian Labour Code that would extend the same workplace protection offered to new parents to family caregivers caring for older adults. Canadians have accepted that providing financial support and job protection for the early days of child rearing is good public policy. No less should be offered in support of the public good served by family caregivers.

We are also campaigning for improved integration with the formal health care system: there needs to be an acceptable approach to accessing and delivering home care that will help ensure that caregivers have the necessary information, training, home care services and respite care they require to perform their duties.

Finally, CARP calls for the government to provide adequate financial supports to family caregivers. The current non-refundable tax credits are inadequate and do very little to support those who most need financial support. Various mechanisms can be examined referencing international examples. Financial incentives could also be made available to employers to provide flexible work environment and supportive programs for employee caregivers.