Research Looks at Ways to Renew Canada’s Social Programs


A group of Canadian think tanks say that many of Canada’s core social programs and policies have changed very little since they were first introduced in the 1960’s, and no longer reflect the needs and priorities of the country. Researchers from the Mowat Centre, Caledon Institute for Social Policy, The Institute for Competitiveness & Prosperity, and Institute for Research on Public Policy published a series of papers exploring opportunities to strengthen Canada’s social program architecture with eight more papers due to be release by end of June.

The three papers featured here, propose that providing better support for caregivers, access to affordable housing and employment skills training, will help to update the social programs to better serve the interests of all Canadians as the population ages.

Policies in Support of Caregivers

Over 8 million informal caregivers in Canada provide care to family members or friends with chronic conditions, disabilities and other health needs. Providing critical support and care to allow Canadians to recover from illness and age at home, helps to achieve great savings to the healthcare system since many people who would otherwise need care within hospitals and other care facilities receive care at home instead. Despite the support provided to family or friends, and the savings to the health care system, caregivers face a variety of challenges, ranging from lost work and income to physical and mental burdens, and receive limited and inconsistent support in exchange for providing care.

As incidence of chronic disease continue to increase, creating a significant burden on the healthcare system, more informal caregivers will be providing necessary care and maintaining the livelihoods of Canadians living with various chronic conditions. The report and CARP’s recommendations urge governments to set up measures that recognize the vital role of informal caregivers by providing community supports, financial assistance and accommodation at work.

The recommendations outlined in the report urge the federal government to provide assistance by:

  • Introducing a government wide national strategy that integrates work of relevant departments and agencies
  • Allocating funds to selected voluntary organizations, to create support groups and provide information to caregivers on various conditions and services
  • Creating a Disability Supports Fund, in collaboration with provinces and territories, to improve the quantity and quality of these supports, including enhancing in home services and encouraging patient centered and directed care
  • Investing in a wide range of respite options and support various forms of community innovation for caregiving
  • Turning existing non-refundable caregiver tax credits into refundable credits or converting them to allowances
  • Enhancing the Compassionate Care Leave Provisions within Employment Insurance, to not only include terminal illness but chronic conditions more broadly
  • Extending the child care drop out provision of the Canada Pension Plan to cover caregiving responsibility or making contributions to the Canada Pension Plan for employees who need to leave the workplace to care for a relative with a severe disability

Access to Affordable Housing:

The report identifies that lack of affordable housing is a persistent concern, yet does not directly speak about how available housing options for older adults are also very limited. The issue of affordable housing in relation to older adults has been picked-up by CARP and over 50 other groups as part of the Seniors Vote campaign promoting key issues of importance to older Canadians ahead of the federal election, calling on the government to work with the provinces to ensure that every Canadians has access to housing appropriate to need, including affordable and supportive housing and assisted living services.

The recommendations provided in the report include investing into social and affordable housing stock, promoting the development of additional rental properties, and integrating housing supports with other social and economic programs to better support persons in need of care, particularly seniors. These recommendations directly apply to the needs of many older adults, who may want to explore housing options that are not limited to traditional residences, and instead look for options that offer more opportunities to be independent, active and social, with access to healthcare and other services when needed. The growing need for seniors housing and promoting age mindfulness is a key issue for CARP and will continue to call on all levels of governments to make sure people remain in their communities throughout their life course.

Employment Skills Training:

Canada’s labour market has changed dramatically since our social architecture was designed. Gone are the days of the traditional single breadwinner, when many could anticipate working in the same job most of their life and receiving a pension at retirement. Globalization, structural and technological changes have helped to create new forms and patterns of employment.

Overall, jobs in Canada have shifted away from permanent, full time employment paying a family wage, benefits to cover unexpected expenses and retirement plan to provide for old age towards increasingly precarious employment relationships such as self-employment, part time, temporary or contract work. In the same respect, families have relied on standard employment relationship to provide supports like dental care, prescription drugs and pensions through employer based benefit plans to cover gaps in the public system. The increasing share of part-time and contract work means that more households face more exposure to the risk of not having a steady retirement income and major challenges in case of illness or disability.

The policy propositions outlined in the paper seek to create a supportive environment for Canadians of all ages within the labour market, by encouraging skills training, and allowing access to skills re-training while receiving EI benefits, and also making sure that funding and skills programs fit the strategic aims of long term needs. In doing so, all levels of governments are to be working together to ensure that all Canadians have access to employment and skills developing opportunities.

To build on the recommendations presented in the report, CARP acknowledges that for many Canadians the traditional rules of retirement are no longer relevant. Today’s growing population of older workers is ready to stay engaged and demonstrate their value to the economy and society. Continued engagement in the workforce provides social inclusion, promotes overall well-being, fulfills financial needs and most important helps prepare Canadians for a secure retirement. In this, governments and businesses have a vested interest in creating an employment landscape that recognized the importance of older workers by removing barriers and providing job opportunities.

CARP recognizes that many social programs are under growing pressure due to limited resources and changing demographics. As such, social programs must undergo strategic transformation to better match services to people and place they are most needed.

To read CARP’s New Vision for Engaging Older Workers
To read Age-Friendly: “The Case for Age-Friendly Cities / Communities” Paper
To read Caregivers: “CARP’s New Vision for Caregiver Support” Policy Paper
To learn about Seniors Vote