FINA Committee Pre-Budget Consultations
Testimony by Oxfam Canada: Kate Higgins, Interim Executive Director
December 3, 2020
Thank you for the opportunity to present Oxfam’s recommendations for Canada’s next federal budget.
At Oxfam Canada, we put women’s rights and gender justice at the heart of everything we do, in our work here in Canada and in our work with some of the poorest communities around the world.
We know that COVID-19 knows no borders and does not discriminate. But we also know that in a world marked by extreme inequality, the health, social and economic fall out of this pandemic have hit some harder than others. Here in Canada, and around the world, it is women – particularly those on the margins – that have been disproportionately affected.
Many women have faced a triple duty of homeschooling, child and elder care, and paid work during this pandemic, leaving them absolutely exhausted. Women make up 70% of all pandemic-related job losses in Canada – and many women who have lost their jobs are struggling to get back into the labour market due to important care responsibilities that they have. Women’s labour force participation has fallen to 55% in Canada, the lowest in over 30 years. Indeed, experts have dubbed the economic downturn we face a “she-cession”.
Today, I want to share with you three recommendations for Budget 2021. These are recommendations that seek to provide solutions to the current crisis we face. But they also lay the foundations for a feminist economic transformation to tackle long-standing inequalities in Canada and around the world.
First, the federal government must invest in the care sector. If this pandemic has shone the light on one thing it is the essential role that care work plays in our lives, our society and our economy.
Canada’s recovery plan must value women’s paid and unpaid work, and must expand and protect jobs in the care sector. Investing in more and better care places – for children, the sick and the elderly – will mean that women currently caring for family members will be able to enter the workforce, and we can start to reverse that shockingly low labour force participation rate. In addition, the care sector workforce – childcare workers, those working in long-term care homes, health care workers – are predominately female, and an investment in the care sector has the potential to generate hundreds of thousands of jobs for women. Let me be crystal clear: without significant investments in the care sector, Canada is set for an unnecessarily slow economic recovery.
We welcomed the commitment to building a publicly funded, national childcare system in this Monday’s Fall Economic Update. This is a step in the right direction.
We call on the government to allocate $2 billion for early learning and child care in budget 2021, and an increase of $2 billion each year after, to publicly fund a child care system in partnership with the provinces, territories, and Indigenous governments. Transfers to the provinces should include measurable targets in accessibility, affordability, quality and inclusiveness. The benefits of a public child care system would be tremendous for Canada: it would increase government revenues by up to $29 billion therefore paying for itself, increase employment for 725,000 women in Canada, and increase Canada’s GDP by $100 billion a year. A landmark investment in the care economy could be partially funded through a new wealth tax on Canada’s wealthiest individuals.
The second area where federal action is urgently needed is in social protection and decent working conditions for women. It’s striking how many jobs that have been deemed “essential” during this pandemic – carers, cashiers, caterers, cleaners and clerical staff - are jobs that are low paid and lack benefits, such as sick leave. Black, Indigenous, and racialized women, including recent immigrants, are overrepresented in these jobs. Many women in low-paid, precarious employment have difficulty accessing employment insurance when they need it, or receive such low levels of benefits that they are forced to move from one low paid job to another.
We call on the government to expand women’s access to employment insurance, or EI, by modernizing key gaps in the existing EI system. We need to adopt best practices from the CERB delivery to turn EI into a more agile delivery mechanism that gets benefits out quickly, expand access to be more aligned with the reality of Canada’s labour market, require lower thresholds for access and increase benefits to meet income adequacy standards.
Finally, COVID-19 knows no borders and Canada’s response to the pandemic should be truly global in nature. Through our international assistance, Canada should invest an additional $2 billion in COVID-19 response and recovery interventions that focus on feminist programming that supports sexual and reproductive health and rights, combats gender-based violence, invests in the care economy and supports women’s and feminist movements. In the longer term, we should fast track implementation of the Feminist International Assistance Policy, doubling our international assistance envelope from $6.2 billion to $12.4 billion over five years. By playing to our strengths and focusing our international assistance on feminist interventions, Canada can show critical global leadership in defending and sustaining important gains on gender equality that are threatened by the pandemic.
Thank you again for the opportunity to appear.