Caregiving and financial insecurity takes centre stage, as CARP presents to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance in Ottawa

October 8, 2010 – The financial security of older and retired Canadians took centre stage in Ottawa this week, as CARP presented its federal pre-budget submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance.

CARP took the opportunity to remind the committee members of the financial hardships faced by many Canadians as they age. For one, we reiterated the number of older Canadians who still live near or below the poverty line. Despite the many advancements made over the past few decades, approximately 7% of all seniors live below the Low Income Cut-off (LICO) measure and a full 18% of single, divorced, or widowed women over 65 live below the LICO. Between rising rates of bankruptcy, diminished retirement funds due to the recession, and growing caregiving duties, the committee heard about the older and retired Canadians who struggle to make ends meet.

CARP reiterated its call for a number of provisions that would help lift older Canadians out of financial insecurity. Our recommendations included a call to substantially increase OAS and GIS, implement a permanent moratorium on mandated RRIF withdrawals, allow small RRSP withdrawals without inducing OAS claw backs or reductions in GIS, and to increase the allowable earnings band for GIS.

To specifically target the unique circumstances faced by older and unattached women, CARP called for the provision of adequate and officially recognized ‘drop-out’ years from CPP calculations for women who perform unpaid caregiving duties. CARP also called for an elimination of mandatory RRIF withdrawals to address gender-related longevity, as women tend to live longer than men do and are more likely to outlive their retirement funds.

It was caregiving, however, that received the greatest share of attention from the finance committee members. CARP has long called for National Family Caregiver Strategy to support the millions of Canadians who are providing informal care to an older loved one. In fact, in our 2008 submission to the same committee, CARP asked the federal government to provide financial support, ensure workplace protection, and formally integrate personal caregiving into health care system – a position we continued to press with all federal parties since then and again at the Finance Subcommittee this week.

CARP’s position this week in Ottawa was bolstered by the announcement of the Liberal Party’s national caregiver plan on the same day as our presentation and by the fact that palliative care and caregiving issues have recently become major talking points in political circles and the media. It seems that caregiving is finally being recognized as a large-scale intergenerational issue that must be addressed sooner rather than later.

Like pension reform, which went from political taboo to widespread discussion, caregiving promises to become an issue no one will be able to ignore. With close to 3 million Canadians aged 45 and over providing some form of unpaid care to people 65 years of age or older who have long-term health problems, CARP will continue to press politicians of all parties to implement meaningful and supportive policies for caregivers across the country.