Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Financial Strain on Family Caregivers ...

A new poll published by the Canadian Cancer Society this month says that 88% of the 2,231 polled thought that providing care or assistance for a family member would have a negative impact on their financial situation. 57% said that it would have a major impact.

Those of us who have lived the experience might be excused for giving a hollow laugh. Could anything be more self evident? Between lost income, depleted savings, extra expenses not covered by the basic medical plan and money spent on counsellors and respite care in order to stay sane while caregiving, many families will never recuperate their financial losses. This is particularly true of families who face a lifetime of caring for an seriously ill or injured child.

Few of us would give up the opportunity to care for an ill or disabled loved one, but many would be grateful for some compensation for our losses. Family caregivers save our governments millions of healthcare dollars annually at great cost to themselves and their families. According to Statistics Canada, in 2009, the economic contribution of family caregivers in Canada was estimated to be between $25-26 billion and 65% of households with a caregiver report a combined income of less than $45,ooo. (23% reported less than $20,000!).

With an aging population and a federal election in the offing, it behooves each of us to ask pointed questions of our political parties regarding how they would increase government financial support for family caregivers.

The Cancer Society, like many advocacy organizations, has been pushing for better financial support through the federal Compassionate Care Benefit, asking for improvements including:

* Increasing the benefit period from the current 6 weeks to 26 weeks, accessible during a 52 week period.

* Increasing flexibility through allowing benefit claims for partial weeks taken over a longer period rather than blocks of weeks at a time.

* Changing the wording of the eligibility criteria from "significant risk of death" to "significant need of caregiving due to a life threatening illness".

* Amending the Canadian Labour Code to protect the jobs of caregivers.

Special provision also needs to be made for increasing support to family caregivers who are self-employed. Benefits attached to tax credits are of little use to someone who can no longer earn an income due to their caregiving.

It is said that societies are judged by the degree to which they support their most vulnerable. Most family caregivers provide generous and unstinting care for their loved ones. Can we do any less for them?

Please take a moment to call or email your local MP's office to register your concern for family caregivers and to ask what his or her party plans to do, specifically, to support them.

Photo by Bigstock Photos

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