Ba­sic in­come

The Compass - - Editorial -

In the Hamil­ton and Thun­der Bay ar­eas of On­tario, 400 peo­ple have been signed up so far for a pi­lot project that pro­vides a ba­sic in­come.

It’s a three-year ex­per­i­ment that will be in­de­pen­dently mon­i­tored by re­searchers and fol­lowed with keen in­ter­est by pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments and an­tipoverty ad­vo­cates across the coun­try.

The idea be­hind a ba­sic in­come is that sta­ble, liv­able fund­ing makes it eas­ier for peo­ple to es­cape poverty, find safe hous­ing and em­ploy­ment or em­ploy­ment train­ing, and main­tain a bal­anced diet and good health, thus cost­ing the so­cial safety net less in the long run.

It’s not a new idea. The World Eco­nomic Fo­rum re­ports that the con­cept of a univer­sal ba­sic in­come (UBI) has been turned into at least a tem­po­rary re­al­ity in sev­eral parts of the world, in­clud­ing Alaska, Namibia, Scot­land, In­dia and Brazil.

Cur­rently, Fin­land, the Nether­lands and parts of On­tario are test­ing the wa­ters, while Bri­tish Columbia - which has the high­est poverty rate in Canada - plans to fol­low suit.

A 53-year-old man who lost his job be­cause of health is­sues told the Toronto Star last month that a ba­sic in­come could have pre­vented him from join­ing the ranks of the home­less.

The idea is that re­cip­i­ents re­ceive a monthly in­come (the amount varies by pro­gram and ju­ris­dic­tion) in ad­di­tion to so­cial as­sis­tance or - in the case of the work­ing poor - the mod­est em­ploy­ment in­come they earn, to bridge the gap be­tween vul­ner­a­bil­ity and se­cu­rity.

On­tario hopes to even­tu­ally have 4,000 peo­ple en­rolled in the project.

Writ­ing for the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum in Jan­uary, Scott San­tens makes a strong ar­gu­ment in favour of UBI: “The truth is that the costs of peo­ple hav­ing in­suf­fi­cient in­comes are many and col­lec­tively mas­sive. It bur­dens the health-care sys­tem. It bur­dens the crim­i­nal justice sys­tem. It bur­dens the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem. It bur­dens would-be en­trepreneurs, it bur­dens both pro­duc­tiv­ity and con­sumer buy­ing power and there­fore en­tire economies.”

In this province, with high il­lit­er­acy and un­em­ploy­ment rates, we can re­late.

Crit­ics, how­ever, ar­gue that a ba­sic in­come re­wards peo­ple for noth­ing, is just an­other form of wel­fare, and could take away any in­cen­tive to find work.

And, fur­ther­more, as Huff­in­g­ton Post con­trib­u­tor Ge­orge Zarkadakis points out, “Democ­racy is based on the as­sump­tion that cit­i­zens are the pro­duc­ers of wealth and the own­ers of prop­erty. UBI is un­der­min­ing the foun­da­tions of democ­racy be­cause it trans­forms cit­i­zen free­dom to cit­i­zen de­pen­dency.”

So, would a univer­sal ba­sic in­come help boost peo­ple liv­ing in poverty to a more sta­ble life, en­abling them to im­prove their cir­cum­stances? Or would it make peo­ple al­ready re­liant on the gov­ern­ment even more re­liant?

Given the cur­rent fis­cal re­al­ity in New­found­land and Labrador, UBI may not be an ex­per­i­ment the gov­ern­ment can af­ford to carry out any­time soon. But the pi­lot projects be­ing rolled out in other parts of Canada are cer­tainly worth watch­ing, and think­ing about.

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