Good afternoon. I'm Judy Shamian. I'm the president and CEO of VON Canada, and I am here to speak on behalf of the Canadian Caregiver Coalition.
The focus of this consultation deals with the best place for families and a strong and prosperous economy. My comments around family caregivers deal with both of these issues.
I want to say a word about the Canadian Caregiver Coalition. It's a national body representing and promoting the voice, needs, and interests of family caregivers, with all levels of government and community, through leadership, research, information, and communication.
I am here as one of the sustaining partners, including VON Canada; Canadian Home Care Association; CSSS Cavendish, in Montreal; Saint Elizabeth Health Care; and ComCare.
In addition to the sustaining partners, there are many other organizations that support our agenda, such as the Alzheimer Society; Caledon Institute; the Law Foundation of B.C.; federal commissions and committees, such as mental health commissions, the Special Senate Committee on Aging, the parliamentary committee on palliative and compassionate care, and others. As you can see, this is a broad agenda.
There are over three million Canadians in this country who are unpaid family caregivers and who provide extensive care. I'm sure if I were to go around the room, members of the House and others would have stories from either their constituents or family members that are heartbreaking. Families do it with great love, and they are asking for our support.
Research shows that if family caregivers were to go on strike today, it would cost us $25 billion a year, which is close to 20% of what we invest in our mainstream health care. Family caregivers provide an enormous contribution to this country, and we offer them very little in return.
There are four recommendations that I am putting in front of you, and I will go into each one as time permits.
The first recommendation is to announce a national caregiver strategy to demonstrate that the federal government is seriously committed to addressing the challenge facing Canadian families.
The second recommendation is the enhancement of financial tax credits for caregivers to help compensate for expenses incurred by families who must purchase services, equipment, and supplies that assist individuals requiring care to live independently at home. Some of you are probably getting bored of hearing this message; I gave you the same message last year.
Recommendation three is to modify the Canada Pension Plan, CPP, so that those with reduced income as a result of family caregiving are protected.
Recommendation four is to support cross-country consultations with families to enhance the general social survey, GSS, cycle 26, which is dedicated to family caregiving.
Let me cycle back to the recommendations.
Recommendation one is to establish a national caregiver strategy, and there are various tax benefits that can be considered. The caregiving strategy requires a group of experts who can work with the jurisdictions and communities--the for-profit corporate Canada and the not-for-profits across the country--to see how we are going to support our caregivers.
If we don't support our caregivers, we are also risking our workforce. Research clearly shows that those who are caregiving--and there are over 700,000 people, for example, who provide more than 10 hours of caregiving a week--are unable to accept promotions and they work less than they otherwise could if we were to support them.
The second recommendation, which talks about enhancing caregiver tax measures, is an immediate measure. The federal government should provide increased support for the caregiving and infirm dependant credit.
The credit could be enriched in three ways, and these are mechanisms that already exist: they could be enriched by increasing the amount of both credits, which will help caregivers with more of the costs they incur; modifying the caregiver credit to phase out more gradually; and making the caregiver credit refundable, such as in Manitoba. Our recommendation is that an expert advisory committee be put in place to look at the tax system.
The third recommendation is enhancing the employment benefit, and that's the CPP. We already have mechanisms by which individuals can discount some of their unproductive years. We should pay attention and do the same thing with family caregivers. We should institute government pension contributions on the hours of work provided by family caregivers, effectively ascribing a value to caregiving, and create a caregiver-specific pension that would operate like an income supplement.
The final point is on our data component. We need data. All the data we have is from 1997.