COVID-19 slapped us hard. Older adults, particularly those living in group settings, were hit the hardest. The workers caring for them were overworked, stressed, and in constant fear. Most of them – both in the community and in group settings – are personal support workers. There just aren’t enough of them. It’s hard to get people to join the profession and even harder to get them to stay.
The political parties are scrambling. The Liberals, Conservatives, and NDP have all told us their plans – higher pay and more training for personal support workers, benefits for caregivers, and increases to home accessibility tax credits so that more older adults can stay in their homes.
These are promising ideas, but quick fixes won’t last. We need a national workforce strategy.
A strategy lays out a vision and the broad steps to get there. A workforce strategy will look at how we build and maintain a pool of dedicated, qualified, and respected care workers. It will also include the many unpaid caregivers – family, friends, and neighbours – who currently provide about three-quarters of care in the home. Here is some of what it needs to consider.
- The conditions of work are the conditions of care. Personal support workers need a living wage, benefits, and working conditions that recognize their value. Unpaid caregivers need the supports that help them take care of themselves while they are caring for others.
- Some personal support workers are new to Canada, and some are considering moving to Canada. They need recognition of their skills, consistent education and training, and an accelerated path to permanent Canadian status. Giving them decent employment and a clear pathway to permanent residency encourages them to work here.
- Progress needs to be identified, assessed, and tracked. Clear, measurable goals, with regular reporting to the public, tell us how well we are doing.
Much of the planning will belong to Canada’s provinces and territories. However, the federal government needs to take the first steps just as it has for universal health care and other national programmes. Ministries of health, labour, education, and immigration will all play a part. It’s a large undertaking, but the results will be even larger. Older adults will have the ongoing care they need, and when the next pandemic, the next emergency, comes along, we will be ready.
What can you do about a national workforce strategy? Ask candidates what they will do. Here is a start.
- What will you and your party do to attract and keep the workers who care for older adults?
- Will your party develop a workforce strategy? What funding are you prepared to commit?
- How will your policies attract and certify personal support workers from other countries? What incentives will you offer them?
- What will you do for unpaid caregivers?
To find your riding, contact Elections Canada. Enter your postal code in the Voter Information Service box to find your federal electoral district. Under Voter Registration Service, register or update your voting information.
Ask, think, and then vote!