In 2021, Gen Squeeze, child care advocates, and families across Canada celebrated a big win — a $30B investment in a national $10 a day child care system. Achieving this huge milestone was a centerpiece in Gen Squeeze’s comprehensive family policy solutions framework, and we’re thrilled to have contributed in important ways to its success.
As we mark this victory, we’re also painfully aware that there’s more to do. Families still find themselves squeezed by rising costs, scarce supports, and services that are difficult to access. Government budgets still invest more urgently in retirees than younger Canadians — even when new child care spending is added in. This investment pattern persists despite younger people bearing the brunt of higher interest rates and unaffordable housing, leading many to question whether or when to start a family, and experiencing more mental ill health and less hope for the future.
These trends underscore the pressing need for new and improved family policy in Canada. Gen Squeeze is helping to pave the way for policy change with our updated family policy solutions framework.
Like all of our solutions frameworks, it delivers the big picture on changes needed to support families with young children. This is an especially important moment to get things right, given evidence confirming that the early years can have lifelong effects on health, education and employment.
Our goal: parents can balance caregiving and earning
Parents need time to care for their kids, and most also need time at their jobs to earn wages to support their families. Our public policies should value and enable both in ways that support balance and wellbeing. There are two primary policy pathways to achieve this goal.
Ensure parents have enough time with their families
Prioritizing the generation raising young kids begins in the very first moments following the birth of a child, with our parental leave system. It’s high time this system got an overhaul. Here's what we recommend:
- Remove parental leave from the Employment Insurance (EI) system, so that inequalities in the labour market aren’t reproduced in access to parental leave. Currently, 1/3 of women are ineligible, and benefits are more likely to go to higher earners. Taking parental leave out of EI will allow all children to have protected time with parents, regardless of their employment status.
- Increase benefit amounts. Benefits should be high enough to prevent poverty — especially during critical early years. Canada lags well behind international standards and comparators when it comes to parental leave — 29 OECD countries have higher benefit levels. We have a prescription to fix this.
- Promote shared parental leave. We recommend reserving leave time for both parents (with single parents eligible for the same total leave as two-parent families). Evidence confirms that women taking more than 12 months of leave reinforces societal patterns that help perpetuate gender pay gaps and other employment barriers for women. Shared leave will help promote gender equity.
- More flexible work time. In addition to adequate parental leave, we can help parents better balance caregiving and paid work by adopting more flexible workplace practices — like 4-day work weeks and remote work arrangements. Policy design remains at an early stage, so we’re open to new and emerging solutions.
Ensure parents have enough time at work
After taking leave, many parents want or need the opportunity to return to work, making affordable and high-quality child care a critical support. Here’s what we recommend to continue to build on recent child care successes:
- Ensure child care is affordable. Current commitments are to $10 a day as the average daily child care fee — we recommend $10 as the maximum fee. We know this is feasible, because five jurisdictions have already set fees at $10 a day or less. We also recommend that no fee is charged to low-income families (with annual incomes under $40k).
- Ensure child care is available. Affordable child care isn’t enough if parents are unable to find spaces. In 2021, there were only enough licensed spaces for 29% of children aged 0-12. Increased investment is needed to create the spaces required to meet growing demand from parents who want to pursue paid work.
- Recruit and retain enough child care professionals who are paid fairly. Child care staff should be paid in accordance with the importance of their work and the skills and education they bring to it. Inadequate remuneration is a major barrier to recruiting and retaining qualified staff, reinforcing challenges with delivering enough spaces to meet demand.
- Better spread work time across longer lives — fewer hours per year, more years of work. Canadians are living 7-10 years longer, while fertility rates are declining. This means we’re supporting the same (or better) services for today’s retirees with only 3 tax paying working age residents per retiree as we did when there were 7 workers helping to pay for every retiree. These demographic realities are the reason why we recommend reconsidering how the hours we work each year intersect with the number of years we work across our lives.
Longer life spans may mean that it’s appropriate to ask (many) Canadians to work for more years before claiming retirement income supports. Especially if these longer work lives help to pay for the kinds of public programs needed to facilitate greater work-life balance for each year in the labour market — like better parental leave, affordable and accessible child care, reliable public transit, and affordable housing.
We hope you’ll help us spread the word on these family policy recommendations by sharing the framework across your network, or sharing your story with us about how you or someone you love is struggling to balance caregiving and paid work. Keep an eye on the podcast page for upcoming discussions on securing fair pay for child care workers, and how to move towards shorter work weeks.
Andrea Long is Senior Director of Research and Knowledge Mobilization for Gen Squeeze. She has more than 20 years of experience in policy analysis, research and knowledge mobilization on health and social issues, including housing and homelessness, poverty, social determinants of health, and health in all policies.