Written by Janet McLean, Evaluation and Quality Improvement Lead with Family Caregivers of BC
In December 2020, Family Caregivers of BC (FCBC) conducted a province-wide survey of unpaid family/friend caregivers. The goal of the survey was to understand how COVID-19 has impacted caregivers in BC, no matter where they live, where their care recipient lives or if their care recipient is currently receiving publicly subsidized services. Over 1,000 caregivers completed the survey, and the data is painting a picture about the challenges caregivers are facing – both before and during the pandemic.
Not surprisingly, COVID-19 has emphasized the essential role caregivers play in helping the people they care for live their best lives. On top of radical changes in their own personal circumstances such as employment, finances and managing the risk of COVID-19, caregivers reported being challenged around quickly adapting carefully crafted routines and/or Continued on page 2 creating new routines they hadn’t anticipated. All of this contributed to over 50% of caregivers reporting a decrease in their mental health and 40% reporting a decrease in their physical health.To read more you can find our Survey Highlights Release on our website www.familycaregiversbc.ca.
One observation emerging from the survey data is how many caregivers – through lack of awareness and/or information – report they are not benefiting from available supports. And what we know from evidence on caregiving, caregivers who are well supported have a much greater chance of sustaining their role.
Here are examples of the kind of caregiving we heard about through our survey: 85% of caregivers were already caregiving when COVID-19 arrived:
- ~50% reported they have been caregiving for up to five years, a third caregiving 6+ years
- ~50% reported they are providing 11+ hours of care per week of care, 20% provide 40+ hours
- Over 40% of caregivers reported providing more care because of COVID-19, 40% exceeding 11 additional hours per week
The level of caregiving represented by the survey data is significant. Yet, the caregivers reporting this level of care were also those most likely to report they are not taking advantage of supports. For example, three quarters reported their care recipients were not receiving publicly subsidized home support services through their Health Authorities. This is not a bad thing in and of itself but if a caregiver is providing a high level of support over long periods of time, it becomes more and more likely their ability to continue caregiving will decrease until they become a risk to themselves and their care recipient. The same caregivers are often unaware of other caregiver supports available through provincial organizations like BC211 and community-based non-profits. Many new programs and services have launched because of COVID-19. If you aren’t sure what services might be available to help with your caregiving, call our BC Caregiver Support Line @ 1-877-520-3267. Our staff will listen to understand your situation and refer you to support groups and other provincial and community resources that may be able to provide much needed assistance.
Many of the caregivers who responded to our survey also reported they are not taking advantage of available caregiver benefits through the federal government. While it is true that many of these benefits depend on being employed or having an annual income that will benefit from tax credits, not taking advantage of them if they are applicable is a missed opportunity. One quarter of caregivers reported experiencing financial hardship as a result of caregiving during COVID-19, with 50% reporting they employed private services to assist with medical and personal care and spent their own funds on Personal Protective Equipment and food.
Roughly 70% of caregivers reported not receiving any federal benefits to assist with caregiving.
- Only 6% reported taking advantage of Caregiver Tax Credits which are not dependent on employment
- Only 3% of caregivers reported receiving the Canada Caregiver Recovery Benefit – a federal program developed to assist employed caregivers with challenges caused by COVID-19
If you are wondering if there might be financial breaks you are unaware of, FCBC created a financial guide that is posted on our website: www. familycaregiversbc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/ Guide-to-Financial-Assistance-January-2021.pdf. We also have an up-to-date listing of information about financial benefits available because of COVID-19: www.familycaregiversbc.ca/communityresources/covid-19-virus.
Caregivers are often so busy they don’t feel they have time to reach out for support. However, this might mean they are missing out on supports that could help them. For support on your unique situation please contact the CRA General Inquiries Line: 1-800-959-8281 or discuss what tax credits and benefits you may be eligible for with your accountant. You can also call BC Caregiver Support Line (1-877-520-3267) or visit our website www. familycaregiversbc.ca.