Opinion

Cannan: Advocating for family caregivers

Before Parliament recessed last week, I had a meeting with Tammy Moore, the interim chief executive officer for ALS Canada.

The organization supports research and advocacy on behalf of individuals and their families who suffer from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) a terminal disease characterized by progressive paralysis of muscles throughout the body.

As home caregiving is an essential part of caring for ALS patients, 90 per cent of whom die within five years of diagnosis, it puts a tremendous emotional and financial burden on ALS families.

I know and have met several constituents who take on the role of caregiver for family members, friends and others in the community who need help due to chronic or long-term illness, disability or aging.

The commitment and compassion of the caregivers who work in various care facilities in our community is essential as well and we are grateful to have these dedicated people in our community offering support.

The decision to keep those of frail health at home for as long as possible, however, is a choice that families make creating increased levels of stress and responsibility on caregivers who must also hold down a job.

Our community is not unique. It is estimated that there were 6.1 million employed Canadians who provided care to a family member or friend in 2012, representing over a third of Canada’s entire workforce (35 per cent).

Most caregivers devote considerable time, energy and money to provide care, and many struggle to balance their responsibilities at home and at work.

The economic and social costs associated with caregiving are significant.

In 2012, over half a million (about 600,000) caregivers had to cut back their regular working hours and 390,000 had to leave their jobs entirely to care for a loved one. Another 160,000 had to turn down paid employment because of their caregiving responsibilities.

Beyond the costs to caregivers in terms of lost wages or benefits, the negative employment consequences of caregiving affect employers through lost productivity and the cost of replacing employees.

The Conference Board of Canada estimates that the cost to employers in lost production as a result of caregivers missing work, quitting or losing their jobs is $1.28 billion annually.

It is with this in mind that Alice Wong, Minister of State (Seniors), launched the Canadian Employers for Caregivers Plan (CECP) on June 23.

More information can be found at esdc.gc.ca/eng/seniors/cecp/index.shtml. The plan will explore cost-effective ways for employers to help employees with caregiving responsibilities continue to be productive in the workplace.

A key component of the plan is the establishment of the Employer Panel for Caregivers that will consult with employers from across Canada to identify cost-effective workplace practices for informal caregivers helping them achieve a better balance of work and caring responsibilities.

The panel is comprised of industry leaders from small, medium and large-sized businesses, as well as expert advisors on caregiving. The panel will report back to the minister on its initial findings later this year.

In addition, our government has an Information for Caregivers section on the seniors.gc.ca website, which serves as a focal point for federal, provincial and some municipal information on financial information, care options, powers of attorney, and health matters, including mental health and dementia.

Other supports through the federal government include the Family Caregiver Tax Credit, a 15 per cent non-refundable credit to help provide financial relief for caregivers; and additional tax measures and targeted programs for caregivers under federal jurisdiction (i.e. veterans).

Under our Employment Insurance (EI) program two types of benefits are available to caregivers: Compassionate Care benefits provide up to six weeks of income replacement for people who have to be away from work temporarily to provide care or support to a family member who is gravely ill and has a significant risk of death; and Employment Insurance Special Benefits provide benefits for parents caring for their critically ill child.

I look forward to the initial findings of the CECP panel so that we may find ways in which our government and employers can continue to support caregivers, truly some of the unsung heroes in our community.

Recently, Ottawa announced the fifth Call for Proposals for the Build in Canada Innovation Program (BCIP).

Innovation and entrepreneurship starts with ideas that begin in small businesses in communities like our own and that job creation and economic growth happens when small and medium-sized businesses succeed.

The BCIP, launched in 2010 as a pilot program, connects Canadian companies with federal departments who are looking for new ideas and products. By selling to the federal government, businesses receive support to get innovations out of the lab, and into the marketplace.

If a company in Kelowna-Lake Country has a proposal they think will fit the criteria for the BCIP, then I encourage you to submit it by the Sept.16, 2014, deadline.

If you require more information please go to buyandsell.gc.ca/tenders or contact me at ron@cannan.ca.

 

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