We have a long road ahead before we truly value care at home

As a longtime advocate for the value of all work people do, not just paid work, I am pleased to see the announcement recently that family caregivers of injured military vets will be funded.

Defense Minister Peter McKay and Veterans Affairs Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn have announced a Legacy of Care program to include funding of up to $100 a day ‘for family or close friends who leave their job to help provide care to the ill or injured soldier”.

Chief of Defence Staff General Walt Natynczyk has said “In many of these cases where a member is injured, it is family that make the medical appointments, pay the bills and make sure the kids are taken care of…What we are doing is strengthening our support systems so that our injured can recover, rehabilitate and reintegrate as fast as possible.”

In the women’s rights movement, getting access to paid work and equal pay in the man’s world was only half the battle. The other half was to have the role back at home also recognized. This ‘invisible unpaid’ labor became a focus of the UN Conference at Beijing in the 1990s and part of a UN motion, the Platform for Action, that Canada signed.

Since then however, Canada has only taken small steps to actually value this role. All departments except finance set up an advisor to see impact of new laws on women. The women’s secretariat was to look at women’s rights and the census for the first time in its long form surveyed unpaid work and admitted it existed.

We have made even more progress, with attention in government to the care role via maternity benefits, extended for nearly a full year and for caregiver benefits for a few weeks to tend the seriously ill or dying.

The government has set up a deduction for caregiving costs, and these can be as varied as hiring a nanny, sitter, enrolling in summer camp or sending your child to school lunch program. But sadly family caregivers are not permitted to deduct, and this seems as if care by family was always naively considered free with no costs.

Early childhood has been noticed as key and health and safety standards have been set up for care of the very young, all good moves to recognize care’s importance. Yet these also always define care or education as ‘anyone but family’ and do not fund relative- based care though its tasks are identical to care by a stranger.

This government has set in place income splitting for pensioners, admitting apparently that the nonearning spouse still has been an equal partner in the marriage and taxing the couple as if they share income is only logical since they do.

Income splitting has even been made a tax option for those who tend a handicapped child, again admitting that the care role, though unpaid, is vital and is its own work in the marriage.

We have taken some backward steps too, sadly. The plan to wipe out the long form of the census threatens the progress made to admit the roles we had before ignored.

The tying of maternity benefits or care of the dying to paid work means those whose role is caregiving often can’t qualify because they were also caregivers last year.

Having pensions based only on paid work history means anyone who took time from paid work to provide unpaid care ends up poorer for life. Allowing a dropout provision as we currently do, only says taking care of someone else won’t be counted against you. It is still not counted for you. It’s the penalty that keeps on hurting.

The failure to provide income splitting as a tax option to all households means care roles still are mainly penalized by a higher household tax rate, sometimes 54% higher than they would otherwise have been.

But a person must celebrate progress. Valuing care of the seriously injured military vet, is a step along the journey to valuing the care role, whoever does it, even if it is a family member.

In the 1960s the women’s rights movement had a saying “We’ve come a long way baby’. But we are not there yet. There is more to do to recognize care roles at home. This week’s announcement though is another small step.

Beverley Smith