New Caregiver Supports: Updates on the Care/Work Study Paper
3 June 2019
By Sara Pon
The BC Law Institute’s study paper on Family Caregiving, Care/Work, was released in 2010. The need for and incidence of family caregiving is still high in BC. Since the report, there have been some additional supports created for family caregivers in BC and elsewhere in Canada, which will be highlighted below. However, there are still many areas in which caregiver supports could be enhanced or created, as suggested in the Care/Work report.
There is an increased need for elder care in BC, and the rest of Canada, that is associated with a rapidly growing population of seniors and the decreasing fertility rate. The 2016 census revealed that in Canada there are now more seniors than children. The number of seniors in the population is growing at a faster rate than estimated in 2010. As of 2016, those 65 and older represented 16.9% of the population, and this number is estimated to grow to 23% by 2031. Critically, the number of those 85 and older is growing the fastest, and this is the population which is most likely to need care.
BC’s need for family caregivers is pressing for several reasons. First, our population is older compared to other provinces, with the third largest total number of seniors. Second, BC has many of the top municipalities for share of seniors. For example, BC has four municipalities where over 40% of the population are 65 years of age or older. Additionally, there are many municipalities in BC with a larger than average population of residents 85 years and older: in Sidney BC, 9.7% of its residents are 85 years or older. Many of these seniors are still living within the community. Only 32% of those 85 years and older live in a collective dwelling. This means the number of seniors in BC needing family caregivers is high, and the population of those available to provide the care is dwindling. Caregiver supports are important to help family caregivers sustain this care work.
Employment Leaves for Family Caregiving
The BC government has announced a new employment leave for family caregivers who are caring for an adult or child with a critical illness. Bill 8: Employment Standards Amendment Act, 2019, currently in second reading stage, proposes to create a 16-week leave for those caring for an adult family member and 36 weeks for those caring for a child who is facing a critical illness. The care recipient must be facing a life-threatening illness, which is a change to their health. If the care recipient is still critically ill and the leave has ended, this leave may be renewed. This leave would therefore exclude family caregivers who need a leave for a care recipient who has a chronic illness, or has a sudden illness which does not put their life at risk.
This new employment leave closely mirrors the federal government’s family caregiver benefit for children and adults through Employment Insurance. Put in place in 2018, these new family caregiver benefits provide up to 15 weeks for those caring for a critically ill adult family member or up to 35 weeks for a critically ill child. The care recipient must be critically ill or injured, which is defined as having one’s life at risk due to a change in health status. This benefit can be shared if multiple caregivers wish to take time off from work to care for a family member. Like BC’s proposed new employment leave, this family caregiver benefit excludes family caregivers who have taken time off work to care for a family member who has a chronic illness, or a sudden illness which does not leave their life at risk.
One recommendation in the Care/Work study report which has been put into effect is increasing the duration of the compassionate care leave in BC, and increasing the length of the compassionate care benefit under the Employment Insurance program. In BC, the compassionate care leave can now be taken for up to 27 weeks within a 52-week window. The compassionate care benefit can now be provided for up to 26 weeks within a 52-week window.
Accommodations of Family Responsibilities in the Workplace: Workplace Flexibility
The BCLI Care/Work report suggested creating a right for workers to request changes to their work conditions to allow them to accommodate family responsibilities. The BC provincial government has not created any rights to request workplace flexibility; however, there are some proposed changes from the federal government to note. The federal government has proposed to give federally regulated employees the right to request flexible work arrangements such as schedule or location. Bill C-63 has received royal assent, but these provisions have yet to be put into force. If put into force, federally-regulated or federal government employees would be able to request flexible work arrangements in writing, and employers must respond in writing within 30 days. An employer would be able to refuse the request on a variety of grounds, including that it would be too costly, or that it would impact the quality or productivity of the business. These provisions would protect the employee from the employer taking a negative action against them in response to the request.
In 2014, the Canadian Human Rights Commission brought out a guide on how employers can help employees balance paid work and care work, applicable to federally-regulated employers or the federal government. The guide suggests how employers can best accommodate employee’s caregiving responsibilities. Employers do not need to accommodate if it will cause undue hardship, and there is no criteria for what constitutes undue hardship. The guide also notes that the caregiver must prove they had no other option for care, that they had tried to make other arrangements, and that they had no choice but to engage care work as there is no requirement to accommodate if the person is voluntarily choosing care.
Indirect Compensation through the Tax System
The federal government in the 2017 budget consolidated the caregiver tax credits, noting that the previous caregiver tax credit system was overly complex. The new Canada Caregiver Credit can now be used by caregivers regardless of whether they live with the care recipient or not. The credit requires the caregiver to be supporting the care recipient because of physical or mental impairment, and lists a variety of family members that can be cared for including spouse, parent, grandparent, or child. There is still no requirement for hours of care work, but a medical certificate may be needed listing what the impairment is and its duration. The credit is currently $2,182, in addition to the other related dependant tax credits the caregiver may be eligible for. The Care/Work report suggested creating a non-refundable tax credit to help lower income caregivers who may not be able to take advantage of the caregiver tax credits. However, the new Canada Caregiver Credit remains a non-refundable credit.
Direct Payments to Caregivers
The Care/Work report suggested the provincial and federal government create income replacements for caregivers. Currently, there are no programs in effect for BC residents. The Nova Scotia Caregiver Benefit was being proposed at the time of the report’s writing in 2010. This Caregiver Benefit did come into effect and remains $400 a month for caregivers who perform at least 20 hours a week of care and have an income of $22,125 or less for a single caregiver. This benefit is considered taxable income.
New Brunswick did create a non-taxable benefit for primary informal caregivers in 2018 which was $106.25 per month. The government removed this benefit in 2019, stating that this program was not effective and not enough caregivers were using it. The news release stated this money would be put into increasing the minimum wage for home support workers with the intention of increasing worker retention.
Pension Security for Caregivers
The Care/Work report suggested increasing pension security for caregivers by creating a caregiver drop-out provision and topping up pension contributions for family caregivers. No pension reforms have occurred to directly aid caregivers in compensating for lost pension contributions due to caregiving responsibilities. The Canada Pension Plan general drop-out provision was increased to 17% of the base contribution period, up from 15% at the time of the report writing, which may aid caregivers in allowing more years of reduced pension contributions to be removed from the CPP calculation.
While not providing tangible support to caregivers, Manitoba enacted the Caregiver Recognition Act in 2011 with the intention of recognizing the contributions informal caregivers make to society. This act requires the minister to consult with caregivers and write a report every two years describing what the ministry has done to aid caregivers, although this act does not create any legal obligations. The schedule lays out general principles the government should follow in relation to caregivers, including recognizing the value of their care work, recognizing the relationship between the caregiver and care recipient, and the need to support caregivers. This act did create a Caregiver Advisory Committee, but these provisions were repealed in 2018.
Resources for Caregivers
The caregiver supports discussed above are new and proposed caregiver supports. For more information on resources for caregivers and the range of current caregiver supports, visit the links below.