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The cost of caring: Report on the consultation on discrimination on the basis of family status

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Approved by the Commission: November 29, 2006

I. Executive Summary

The Cost of Caring is the final Report on the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s (“the Commission”) research and public consultation on issues related to the ground of family status.

Family status is one of the least understood grounds of the Ontario Human Rights Code (“the Code”). It was clear from the Commission’s consultations that employers, landlords and service providers, as well as potential complainants and advocates, are largely unaware of the protections of the Code with respect to family status, or of issues and barriers related to this ground of discrimination.

Although there are many aspects to the ground of family status, caregiving – and the cost of that caring – lie at its heart. For many, our obligation and desire to care for our family members lies close to the core of our identities. The Commission heard that the frequent lack of recognition, value and support placed on caregiving often leaves caregivers at a significant disadvantage in attempting to access and maintain employment, housing and services. Because caregiving is so closely associated with gender roles, this disadvantage tends to be particularly acute for women. The disadvantages caregivers face are compounded when those caregivers are parenting alone; when they or those they care for have disabilities; when they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered; or when they are racialized or Aboriginal.

Demographic changes, including the rise in lone parent families, the increased labour force participation of women, and the aging of the populace, together with eroding social supports and increased workplace demands, are placing growing pressures on caregivers.

Protections under the Code for caregivers are relatively narrow, extending only to parent-child and spousal types of relationships. Often Ontarians, especially persons with disabilities and older Ontarians, must rely on a wide range of caregiving supports, including siblings, extended family members and other relationships. The lack of recognition and supports for these relationships both in the Code and in the broader social context, can place a burden both on caregivers and on those who rely on their care.

Workplaces have been slow to adapt to the changing realities of the family, and this, together with the intensification of work and the shift to contingent, part-time and temporary work, has created significant stress in the relationship between families and the workplace. Unnecessary inflexibility and outdated assumptions create employment barriers for caregivers. Employers can take positive steps to remove barriers to caregivers, including improving access to alternative work arrangements, ensuring that part-time employees are treated fairly, re-examining policies related to hours of work and leaves of absence, and developing accommodation policies and procedures.

Families with young children have long faced significant disadvantages in the rental housing market, due to widespread discrimination among landlords, a tight supply of affordable housing, and the disproportionate poverty among lone parent, racialized, Aboriginal and other vulnerable families. The Commission recognizes that substantial work must be done to increase awareness among both landlords and tenants of their rights and responsibilities under the Code, and to tackle systemic barriers in the rental housing market.

The Commission heard about barriers that families face in accessing a range of services, including social assistance, transportation, healthcare and education. Service providers must recognize the diversity of Ontario’s families, and design their services to recognize needs related to family status. Age restrictions and “child-free” spaces must be employed with caution, as such policies may violate the Code.

Employers, landlords and service providers cannot, on their own, solve all of these complex issues. Government has a responsibility to ensure that there are adequate social supports for caregivers, such as supports for eldercare, childcare, and persons with disabilities; minimum legislated standards that ensure that caregivers can participate in the workforce; adequate affordable housing; and barrier-free government services. Without such supports, caregivers will continue to face serious systemic barriers.

The Commission also has a significant role to play in addressing issues related to family status. The Commission will develop policies and guidelines on family status to clarify what employers, landlords and service providers must do to ensure compliance with the Code. The Commission will also take steps to communicate the results of this consultation, and to ensure greater awareness of these issues among all key stakeholders. The Commission hopes that this Report will raise awareness about the importance and impact of this Code ground, encourage further discussion of the issues raised, and provide a resource for the community in advancing the rights under the Code related to family status.

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