Extending parental leave to 18 months is not the solution
Parents are swooning over the possibility of a parental leave increase from 12 months to 18 months, but what many don’t realize is that a longer leave does not equate to more money from the government.
Currently, new parents that fit the requirements are eligible to receive up to a maximum of $537 per week through EI benefits – 55 per cent of their regular salary, capped at just over $51,000 per year.
This means that parents who are earning more than the salary cap are receiving significantly less than 50 per cent of their salary, and low-earning parents are receiving only a fraction of that weekly amount to support their families during their first year of parenthood.
With an 18-month leave period, those same numbers would be stretched over a longer period of time, resulting in even lower weekly amounts.
When comparing those numbers to the current cost of living in Vancouver, it’s no surprise that many households are also putting a cap on the size of their families, or opting not to have children at all.
As a mom of three, I’ve experienced many facets of BC’s parental leave benefits over the years. I’ve received less than the allowable amount through EI and suffered the consequences of increased financial responsibilities with decreased resources to cover the costs.
I’ve enjoyed the benefits of working for an employer with a top-up program offering close to 80 per cent of my annual income for a good portion of my leave, and I’ve been faced with the challenges of restrictive parental leave benefits as a self-employed mom, forced to choose between continuing to work throughout my year of leave with no financial support from the government in order to keep my foot in the door with clients, or to collect my allowable support with the caveat that any income earned during my period of leave must be paid back dollar to dollar, with a maximum allowable earning amount of just $50 a week (or 25 per cent of my allotted weekly benefit), essentially working for pennies to keep my business afloat.
Families today are lucky to make it through the financial rut that comes with taking the full leave, many forced to return to work early due to the high cost of living.
What we need is an overhaul of the system - to remove parental leave benefits from the employment insurance system and create a new federal program that ensures that all parents qualify for leave benefits - regardless of gender, income, or employment status - benefits that most working parents have been paying to receive for most of their careers.
We need to normalize the process of considering flexible work schedules for employees - it shouldn’t have to be all or nothing for working parents, and we need improved incentives for employers to top up leave benefits - especially for low-earning employees who don’t meet the maximum allowable amount granted by government.
Fertility rates in Canada are on a steady decline and our country is populated with more seniors that kids for the first time ever. We need to invest in our future. What we need is more support, not more time.