The Liberal Party of Canada announces its national caregiver plan

This week, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff announced his party’s plan for caregivers and their families. The plan, titled The Liberal Family Care Plan: Standing with Families, promises $1 billion annually in support of family caregivers.

With over 2.7 million Canadians aged 45 and over providing some form of unpaid care to people 65 years of age or older, formal recognition and the promise of financial support is encouraging and commendable. Susan Eng, Vice President of Carp Advocacy stated CARP’s support for the plan:

“CARP members would welcome the promise of $1 Billion in annual financial support for family caregivers announced today by Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, CARP has called for substantive and targeted financial support for the millions of Canadians who care for older loved ones providing massive savings to the formal healthcare system and an estimated $25 Billion in unpaid labour while shouldering an extraordinary financial and emotional burden.”

Mr. Ignatieff added, “Families look after each other. Canadian families want to shoulder the responsibility of caring for their loved ones at home, but they also want a government that stands with them. These are difficult economic times, so that means governments – and Canadians – must choose.”

The choice the Liberals propose to make requires cancelling $6 billion in corporate tax breaks. Even still, at $1 billion a year, the caregiver plan comes at a substantial proposed cost. And of course, the Liberal party is not in power, and as such, its plan has some way to go before it can make a difference. In fact, the proposal may signal that federal parties are gearing up for an upcoming election, and if that proves to be the case, caregiving may become a central platform issue for the Liberal Party.

The Liberal Family Care Plan, if implemented, would introduce:

1. A new six-month Family Care Employment Insurance Benefit, similar to the EI parental leave benefit, to allow more Canadians to care for gravely ill family members at home without having to quit their jobs.

The new Family Care EI Benefit will cost $250 million per year and would help an estimated 30,000 family caregivers. The Liberal Party plan would not increase EI premiums to fund this measure.

The Liberal proposal would replace the six-week compassionate care provision with a new six month Family Care Employment Insurance Benefit. The new program would work like the EI parental leave benefit, and would provide up to six months of EI benefits for family caregivers. It would feature “more humane” eligibility requirements by changing the nature of the required doctor’s certificate. The plan would also build more flexibility into the program by allowing the six months to be claimed in blocks of time over a year-long period and allowing family members to share the six months to provide care.

2. A new Family Care Tax Benefit, modeled on the Child Tax Benefit, to help low- and middle-income family caregivers who provide essential care to a family member at home, and would help an estimated 600,000 family caregivers each year at an annual cost of $750 million. The proposed tax benefit would provide a tax-free monthly payment worth up to $1,350 per year.

This new benefit would work just like the Canada Child Tax Benefit, and would be available to all family caregivers with family incomes under $106,000 who produce a medical certificate affirming that their ill family member requires a significant amount of personal care and assistance with day-to-day tasks. Families with sick children who meet the criteria would also qualify.

CARP reiterates its position on caregiving

CARP has long called for a national caregiver plan. CARP’s federal pre-budget submission from 2008
called for a national caregiver strategy that would provide financial support, workplace protections, formal recognition, and integration with the formal health care sector.

On the same day that the Liberal Party made its caregiver announcement, CARP presented to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance, reiterating our insistence for a National Family Caregiver Strategy to support the millions of Canadians who are providing informal care to an older loved one.