Policy Lens Rationale

Most public policies have been developed without taking into account the needs that affect caregivers. Their contribution has been mostly overlooked, largely under-valued, and even undermined. Often these policies have unintentional negative effects on caregivers and their families, potentially increasing the burden on themselves, those they care for and the health care system.

Caregivers Are a Vital Resource

The support that caregivers provide to their family and friends is vital to the well being and quality of life of these individuals, and a major contribution to Canadian society. Canada’s population is aging and along with this there is an increased prevalence of chronic health conditions. Seniors are living longer with multiple health conditions and increased complexity of needs.

  • There are approximatley 4.5 million Canadians providing care for a family member with long-term health problems.
  • Seventy-five to eighty-five percent of the care today’s seniors receive is provided by family and friends (“caregivers”)[i], 60% of whom provide care for more than three years.[ii] It is estimated that if all the services provided by informal caregivers in the community were replaced at rates paid to home healthcare providers, the value would be $25 to $26 billion.[iii] Additionally, the number of seniors needing assistance is expected to more than double between 2001 and 2031.[iv]
  • With the aging population the number of seniors providing care will also grow. One in four caregivers is over age 65[v], many of whom are likely to experience their own age/ health related challenges,[vi] and are at risk of becoming care recipients themselves. Supporting them in their role as caregivers lessens this risk and the additional health care costs this would entail.
  • Most care recipients are elderly, although this is not exclusively the case. More than half (57%) are 65 years of age or older, and 17% are at least 85. AT the same time, one in four are under 45 years of age, most of whom are children (adult or minors) being cared for by a parent. Parents being cared for by children are mostly 75 years and older, while spouses/partners range more broadly in age, with most between 45 and 84 years of age.
  • Among caregivers who are employed, one in four faces challenges at work (e.g., increased absenteeism for illness and caregiving responsibilities), with economic implications for their income now and in retirement, and for their employers[vii], all of which contributes to both immediate and future burdens on society.
  • Caregivers continue to provide care even when the recipient is institutionalized[viii], an important consideration with the challenges in staffing long term care facilities that will only grow with the aging workforce.
  • Caregivers often provide care for many years and often care for more than one care receiver at a time.

Caregivers Are in Need of Support

Without (1) recognition of the importance of caregivers to the health and social service systems, (2) their inclusion in policy making, and (3) adequate support for their role, the tremendous social and economic contribution caregivers make will be jeopardized. Caregiving is associated with financial strain, and with physical and psychosocial symptoms, placing the physical and mental health of the caregiver, and their ability to continue to provide care, at risk[ix]. For example, almost one third of those providing care to those with a dementia experience depression[x] [xi] [xii] [xiii]. Low levels of social support have also been associated with negative psychological and health outcomes[xiv]. In addition, there are immediate and future financial costs related to the provision of unpaid labour; out of pocket expenses incurred through purchasing equipment, supplies, and services; or reduction in employment income through reduced hours or missed time, turning down promotions or training, or even leaving the labour market to provide care.[xv][xvi] [xvii] [xviii] [xix]. As a result, caregivers may find themselves without immediate and long-term financial security, perhaps requiring social support.

In spite of these risks to caregivers’ well-being, and all that this implies, in most Canadian jurisdictions caregivers’ needs are not formally acknowledged, assessed, or addressed by health and social services, and often service providers lack evidence-informed tools and resources to do so. Policies, programs and services that value and support caregivers and their role can promote caregivers’ well-being and reduce the potential risks to these most valuable individuals.


Ø There are approximately 4.5 million Canadians providing care for a family member with long-term health problems[i].


[i] Canadian Caregiver Coalition. (2012). Caregiver Facts. Retrieved from: http://www.ccc-ccan.ca/

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