As Canada’s population continues to grow and age it faces new health challenges, including a rising number of cancer cases. Nearly 1 in 2 Canadians is expected to receive a cancer diagnosis in their lifetime, and about 25% will die from the disease, making it our country’s leading cause of death. This is creating a growing burden on families, healthcare providers and our country’s economy. Cancer already costs Canadians more than $2.9 billion per year.
That’s why it is so important that Canada has policies in place to support Canadians living with cancer and the people who need to take time away from work to help care for them. Family caregivers are the backbone of our healthcare system. According to Statistics Canada, in 2018 roughly 7.8 million individuals – or 1 in 4 Canadians – provided care to a relative or friend with a long-term health condition.
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When caregivers thrive, our healthcare system thrives as well. Our already-strained system could not function without caregivers, who provide 70-75% of care for people receiving home care in Canada. It is estimated that unpaid caregivers save the Canadian healthcare system upwards of $26 billion every year.
Appropriate support for caregivers will allow our healthcare system to deliver more services at home or in the community, an approach that is often preferable to patients and families and that can lower the high costs associated with hospital care.
The Canadian Cancer Society has been advocating for better support for caregivers for more than 15 years. Over the years, various initiatives have been put forward at the federal level to better support caregivers. Progress has been significant, but gaps still remain.
We are calling on the federal government to:
- Eliminate the mandatory 1-week waiting period to receive the Caregiver Benefit and the EI benefits for Parents of Critically Ill Children
- Allow caregivers to continue receiving the Compassionate Care Benefit for a 2-week bereavement period following the death of their loved one (currently the compassionate care benefit ends when the death occurs)
- Work to improve flexibility criteria for the three EI caregivers benefits by allowing caregivers to receive benefits for partial weeks
- Work with provincial and territorial governments to ensure Canadians enjoy job protection when they claim an EI caregiver benefit
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In addition to our work at the federal level, we are advocating for the following changes within Quebec:
- Increase in the number of weeks of sick leave
CCS believes that support for family caregivers must be flexible and help them maintain their employment ties. According to the Act respecting labour standards, an employee can only be absent from work for a maximum of 12 weeks when they need to be with a loved one who is ill. 12 weeks is not enough time for many caring for a loved one with cancer, which is why CCS is advocating for an extension in the number of weeks of absence allowed. Family caregivers play an essential role in the lives of people with cancer and should not be penalized for this economically.
- Provide financial support for caregivers
When Quebecers face cancer, their struggle is not just medical but also financial. The same can be said for those caring for loved ones with cancer. Serving as a caregiver for a loved one with a serious illness often results in a loss of income for the caregiver and increases the financial burden because of costs associated with treatment, medication, and equipment, among others. Currently, 20% of caregivers are financially insecure in Canada. While there are supports in place for some caregivers through the Employment Insurance Caregiver Benefit and provincial tax credits, these are often inaccessible and insufficient to address the challenges caregivers face. CCS urges the Government of Quebec to adopt new financial supports for caregivers, that could take the form of a monthly allowance for low-income caregivers, to cover the costs of providing care and the loss of income accrued as a result of their caregiving responsibilities.
- Provide necessary resources to ensure quality services at home for people living with cancer and their loved ones
Family caregivers are the backbone of our healthcare system. They need more support to be able to take on the important responsibility of caring for their loved ones. CCS wants the government to commit to a major increase in public funding for home care programs, financial assistance, psychosocial supports, transportation, and respite.