The time is now for a guar­an­teed an­nual in­come

Ben­e­fits of sim­i­lar pro­grams are al­ready well es­tab­lished. Nova Sco­tia only needs the po­lit­i­cal will to im­ple­ment it.


No one is happy with the cur­rent set of sup­ports avail­able to peo­ple liv­ing in poverty. We tend to blame peo­ple for their prob­lems, de­spite the grow­ing con­sen­sus that health is a com­bi­na­tion of things—in­clud­ing in­come—that are largely out­side the per­son. We need to ac­knowl­edge that it is a com­mu­nity re­spon­si­bil­ity to guar­an­tee each per­son an an­nual in­come that al­lows us to be healthy.

The 2013 Re­port Card on Child and Fam­ily Poverty in Nova Sco­tia: 1989–2011, by the Cana­dian Cen­tre for Pol­icy Al­ter­na­tives’ lo­cal of­fice, found more than one in six chil­dren in Nova Sco­tia lived be­low poverty. Indige­nous, racial­ized and im­mi­grant chil­dren were worse off. Our so­cial pro­grams were fail­ing our chil­dren, chil­dren grow­ing up to be­come adults who ac­cessed pro­grams. Lit­tle changed in more re­cent re­port cards—more than one in five chil­dren lived be­low poverty in 2016.

A Guar­an­teed An­nual In­come gives each per­son enough to be healthy. It in­volves pay­ing ev­ery­one, au­to­mat­i­cally, an amount based on what it takes to live above poverty. (In Nova Sco­tia, that’s be­tween $17,000 and $20,000.) Work­ing peo­ple would see the amount re­duced at a rate of 50 cents for ev­ery dol­lar earned. A guar­an­teed in­come al­lows us to spend time on ed­u­ca­tion and em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties. Hav­ing no money causes prob­lems rang­ing from not hav­ing healthy food to be­ing un­der more stress. Liv­ing with these prob­lems leads to higher use of po­lice, emer­gency and health care ser­vices.

There have been pos­i­tive re­sults ev­ery­where GAI pro­grams have been tried. Frankly, it is a waste of re­sources to con­tinue to study them. We need only po­lit­i­cal will to im­ple­ment such a pro­gram here. These pro­grams in­volve no needs test­ing or ex­tra sur­veil­lance—pay­ments are trans­ferred based on other sources of in­come which are al­ready mon­i­tored by the Canada Rev­enue Agency. It is a far more ef­fi­cient sup­port sys­tem than we have cur­rently.

But many groups are ne­glected by so­cial pro­gram­ming. To en­sure eq­ui­table im­pacts of a GAI pro­gram we must in­cor­po­rate Health Eq­uity Im­pact Assess­ments. The Nova Sco­tia depart­ment of health and well­ness in­cludes a Health Eq­uity Pro­to­col. Sim­i­lar assess­ments are used in other provinces and coun­tries by dif­fer­ent names, as a way to plan, im­ple­ment and eval­u­ate pro­grams to re­duce in­equities due to race and other so­cial de­ter­mi­nants of health. In­cor­po­rat­ing HEIAs into a GAI pro­gram will let peo­ple over­come bar­ri­ers to us­ing the pro­gram. There is ben­e­fit in mak­ing a stan­dard amount freely avail­able, but cer­tain groups will find it eas­ier to use that amount. The HEIAs will off­set this.

A GAI pro­gram with HEIAs built in will im­pact all of Nova Sco­tia. In­di­vid­u­als and com­mu­ni­ties strug­gling to live on cur­rent sup­ports will fi­nally be treated like peo­ple. They will be able to par­tic­i­pate in their own health. Health care and policing will see fewer crises. With de­ci­sive ac­tion, we can im­ple­ment this pro­gram right away. We can­not af­ford to de­lay pro­vid­ing our fam­i­lies, neigh­bours and friends with what they need to be healthy.

James Dubé holds bach­e­lor de­grees in science and so­cial work, and is com­plet­ing grad­u­ate train­ing in so­cial work. He has been the case man­ager for ManTalk and Robert S. Wright, MSW, RSW since 2016.

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