Compassionate Care Benefits within Employment Insurance
Published on 03/11/2016
The Government of Canada is seeking public input on special leave provisions under Employment Insurance (EI) and in the Canada Labour Code. When it comes to EI leave provisions, Caledon has focused specifically upon the needs of caregivers. These are the individuals who provide essential supports and services to gravely ill children, persons with severe disabilities or frail elderly seniors.
Compassionate care benefits are Employment Insurance benefits paid to people who have to be away from work temporarily to provide care or support to a family member who is gravely ill and who has a significant risk of death within 26 weeks.
Caledon has proposed that the compassionate care provisions be expanded to permit leave for other caregiving circumstances, not just terminal illness, and extended in terms of the duration of the caregiving period. The former government did announce in the 2015 federal Budget that it would increase the length of the compassionate care benefits from six weeks to six months. But the first concern remains. The current eligibility criteria are too limited to provide meaningful help to most caregivers.
Similarly, EI paid leave for the parents of critically ill children is confined to acute states of health. Yet there are many circumstances under which these parents may need time to provide vital extended care – and not necessarily for life-threatening conditions.
Caledon’s second concern relates to the eligibility for benefits. We stand by our long-held conclusion that general reforms to Employment Insurance are essential in order to provide broader coverage and to ensure that the majority – not a minority – of Canadians are able to benefit from its provisions.
But even with less stringent eligibility criteria for compassionate care benefits, their coverage is infinitesimally small. The shockingly tiny ratio of compassionate care beneficiaries/caregivers ratio speaks volumes to the fact that something is drastically wrong with the current provisions.
Canada’s approach to caregiving must be far more robust and far-reaching than this minimalist program. We have recommended that a broader strategy for caregivers, involving multiple federal departments, is in order given both the social and economic pressures of Canada’s rapidly aging population.
ISBN – 1-55382-680-9