Parenting: Future quality of elder care an illusion

Considering European experience, government promises may be hollow

I read an article not too long ago that advocated for the government to pay “salaries” to families or individuals who are providing care for their aging relatives in their home.

The insinuation was that by providing home care, at their own cost, families were subsidizing the work of the government.

We have grown accustomed to thinking that the responsibility for our care, from the crib to the grave, lies in a mixture of private and public funding. It is certainly difficult to argue that providing public services in education and health care do not contribute, significantly, to a better society.

As Canadians, we have understood and accepted that notion for a long time, thus making us the envy of much of the world when it comes to lifestyle.

It is important to recognize that there has been, and continues to be, a cost for such services. Our tax rate is relatively high compared to many countries, a function of both a small population and a very large country that requires a significant investment in infrastructure to bring excellent services to all Canadians.

We have been fortunate, as a nation, to have abundant resources that we can sell to subsidize our expenses and we have also been fortunate, in the past, to be able to tag along with the economic juggernaut to the south of us. We can scream patriotic fervour all we want, but the reality is that much of our economic success has come from the massive trade relationship we have had with a country that, just a few years ago, produced one third of all the of wealth in the world.

As we have seen in the last few years, and particularly in Europe, the economic wheels of massive government responsibility are falling off. Even the U.S. has felt a huge constriction in economic activity, and the result has been the gutting of many manufacturing opportunities in Canada as companies have shrunk and retrenched in areas of the U.S. where labour costs, transportation costs and taxation rates are lower.  Our oil reserves have saved us from a steep fall, like some countries. But we should not be too complacent about our risk of a significant downturn in lifestyle expectations.

An aging population, without a doubt, is going to be a drain on the economy.  While a large investment in public education boosts productivity, and thus generates greater economic return, a large public investment in personal health care and housing the elderly may generate some employment. But it does not generate a tradable product or service that increases the wealth of our nation. It is, quite simply, an expense.

Can we expect that our governments will be able to follow through on all of the promises made to us during the ‘good times,’ about pensions, health services and long-term care? A look over our shoulders to Europe should remind us that government promises can be pretty hollow when made in the heat of elections and projected out well past the time when such elected officials will actually have to take responsibility for them. I believe it is an illusion to think the current working generation will be able to pay for the quality of care promised their parents.

At the same time, it is highly unlikely that quality care for the elderly can be provided by all families, any more than we can believe that quality education could be provided solely by parents. There must be a concerted effort for private and public entities to creatively devise eldercare options that provide good quality care at a reasonable cost to everyone.   I do not believe this is solely the role of the government, unless of course we all want to be very disappointed with what we get as financial limitations are manifested in drugged seniors put in a corner where they are no bother to anyone.




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