Commentary December 28, 2004

This is a transcript of a CBC Commentary by Bev Smith, former President of Kids First Parent Association of Canada. Please contact us with your input, or to receive or renew a membership with Kids First.

Helen Ward, President
Kids First Parent Association of Canada


CBC Commentary

This holiday season millions of women are working in the home, taking care of children, elderly parents or sick relatives. A lot of work, a lot of unpaid work. Beverley Smith is a child-care activist in Calgary. She’s spent years lobbying Ottawa to remove financial barriers that discourage families from giving care at home. On Commentary, she says it’s time Canada lived up to its word.

Beverley Smith:
Recently UN delegates announced that a promise made ten years ago is not being kept. In 1995 at Beijing, Canada joined other UN nations concerned that women are still penalized financially for providing care of others at home. The Platform for Action said women should be recognized, not just for their remunerated work, but also for their unpaid work. Nations promised to tally such work to make it more visible and to value it.

Canada’s Status of Women department was quick to defend our country, saying we are role models to the world. By our pension “dropout provision” we let working women stay home seven years to raise children without pension penalty. The spokesperson could also have mentioned the longer maternity benefits we have or the compassionate leave benefits to care for someone dying. Hey, we sound so much like we value women’s unpaid work right?

But she did not mention that Canada removed its family allowance and its tax deduction for dependent children in the 1990s They were mainstays for recognizing unpaid care. The pension “dropout provision” still doesn’t count caregiving as pensionable time, it just says the state won’t count this time against you. How is that empowering?

Even her word choice belies the fact Canada still scorns unpaid work. The Status of Woman spokesperson referred to women with paid income as “working women.” This _expression assumes anyone unpaid doesn’t work. In our culture a person who doesn’t work sounds broken or just plain lazy. How does that dignify unpaid labour?

Our maternity and compassionate care benefits are based on how much you earn. So unpaid labour is valued only if you did paid labour. The maternity package excludes most new mothers, the self-employed, many doing part-time paid work and those already at home with a child. The compassionate care program, also based on income, excludes anyone who last year was home providing compassionate care. Doing unpaid labour effectively disqualifies you from benefits for doing unpaid labour. We tax the single household 40 per cent more than the dual income home, saying they get their child care done free. Because of this imputed benefit they’re penalized. Why? For doing unpaid labour.

The national child care plan is a case in point. It defines child care as only the paid version and commits general tax revenue to supporting only that style of care. This denies benefits to all unpaid caregivers who incur salary sacrifice to be with their children. So much for valuing unpaid labour.

Duncan Ironmonger of the Australian Institute of Family Studies has found that home-based care saves the state money. Canada did census surveys of unpaid labour since Beijing, but focusing on gender – did men or women take out the garbage?. We have to do more than evaluate unpaid work. We have to value it.

For Commentary, I’m Beverley Smith in Calgary.

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