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.