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June 15, 2024

How Japan and Sweden Support Family Caregivers: Models to Inspire Canada

Many Canadian family caregivers face financial pressure due to their caregiving roles. They pay out-of-pocket for expenses that can add up to thousands of dollars a year. Many reduce work hours, take a lower-paying job to prioritize flexibility, take time off without pay, or even leave the workforce altogether.

These economic burdens can have significant long-term impacts on the well-being of caregivers. Yet, Canada has no comprehensive national strategy to support their financial needs. In this blog, we look to other nations where caregivers’ financial security has been prioritized.


Japan’s population decline started earlier than many other nations, placing the need for family caregiving in the spotlight. Culturally, the nation has a history of taking care of elderly family members in multi-generational homes. However, lower birth rates and more women in the workplace mean fewer adult children are available today to provide this care. The loss of employees to full-time caregiving is a problem for employers, as their talent pool is shrinking with the demographic shift. Also, the high cost of living means that leaving the workforce is not ideal for caregivers.

To help family caregivers stay employed, the Japanese government provided extensive family leave policies. The benefits, articulated in the Child Care and Family Leave Act, include:

  • 93 days of leave for caregiving that can be taken in up to three installments
  • 5 days of leave as “time off for caregivers”
  • Exemption from overtime work
  • The ability to adjust work hours to meet caregiving responsibilities

The ability to take leave for caregiving activities reduces the likelihood that a caregiver will be forced to leave the workplace by 7.6%, according to Professor Yoko Niimi from the Faculty of Policy Studies, Doshisha University.

Canada does have some partially paid leave available, delivered through employment insurance, but it does not provide the same range of flexibility or compensation.


Providing flexibility in the workplace to accommodate family caregivers is a lesson we can learn from Japan. In Sweden, the Social Services Act emphasizes reducing the out-of-pocket costs often incurred by caregivers through two strategies: providing extensive public services and direct compensation. Here are some key points:

  • Municipalities are responsible for providing support services to family caregivers. For example, they help with daily activities including housework, respite, or providing additional home care support such as assistance with bathing.
  • An “attendance allowance” offers direct payment to the person receiving care, which in turn compensates family caregivers.
  • A “carers allowance” compensates caregivers for their work, technically making them a municipal employee. The number of people receiving this allowance is low because Sweden’s comprehensive public services make full-time caregiving an exceptional situation. However, the existence of the program demonstrates an understanding of the wide range of caregiving circumstances. For example, families who live in remote areas where public services are unavailable could access this program instead.

Australia, Germany, and the UK also have programs that provide financial assistance to family caregivers, using a range of tactics to relieve their pressure. In Canada, various tax credits are available to family caregivers. A major shortcoming of credits is that they reduce tax owing but don’t provide compensation. This means a higher-earning caregiver with a bigger tax bill will get more value out of credits than a caregiver with a lower income who needs the support most. Provincial programs vary greatly, making an already complicated system more difficult.

The complexity and limited value of tax credits mean that very few Canadian family caregivers access them. Our 2020 report on Caregiving in Canada found that only 8% of family caregivers accessed any support.

Sweden and Japan provide excellent examples that Canada can draw from to develop more comprehensive, accessible, and equitable support for family caregivers. CareMakers is committed to increasing awareness about the needs of caregivers across Canada.

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