Se­cu­rity, sta­bil­ity and dig­nity for all Cana­di­ans

Main­tain­ing bal­ance through life re­quires forms of sup­port be­yond just in­come trans­fer

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - JOEY ED­WARDH AND PETER CLUT­TER­BUCK Joey Ed­wardh, PhD, is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment Hal­ton in Burling­ton. Peter Clut­ter­buck is se­nior com­mu­nity plan­ning con­sul­tant with the So­cial Plan­ning Net­work of On­tario.

The Oc­cupy Move­ment put poverty and in­come in­equal­ity on the public agenda in 2011, and since then public de­bate on a num­ber of pol­icy fronts has emerged with liv­ing and min­i­mum wage cam­paigns, re­newed poverty re­duc­tion plans, and a ba­sic in­come guar­an­tee (BIG) for ev­ery­one. On the ba­sic in­come idea, the On­tario govern­ment has com­mit­ted to pi­lot test a “min­come project.”

Re­duc­ing both poverty and in­equal­ity is a com­plex un­der­tak­ing, and cre­at­ing a co­her­ent pol­icy pack­age out of the mix of pro­pos­als un­der con­sid­er­a­tion is a daunt­ing chal­lenge. As crit­i­cal as it is, test­ing only ba­sic in­come may dis­count the im­por­tance of other con­sid­er­a­tions in cre­at­ing a more eq­ui­table, just and in­clu­sive so­ci­ety.

It is best to start with the de­sir­able out­comes of re­struc­tur­ing our so­cial and eco­nomic se­cu­rity sys­tem. We would ar­gue that these out­comes are se­cu­rity, sta­bil­ity, and dig­nity for all Cana­di­ans. While an ad­e­quate ba­sic in­come guar­an­tee would con­trib­ute to these ends, the em­pha­sis on the role of this in­come trans­fer to in­di­vid­u­als tends to over­shadow the im­por­tance of other pil­lars of a sup­port­ive pol­icy frame­work.

Cer­tainly, an in­come guar­an­tee above the poverty line of­fers a mea­sure of se­cu­rity to in­di­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies, es­pe­cially with re­spect to hav­ing suf­fi­cient food and shel­ter. En­sur­ing the avail­abil­ity of af­ford­able hous­ing stock, how­ever, will de­mand ad­di­tional public pol­icy in­ter­ven­tion (e.g. rent con­trol, in­clu­sion­ary zon­ing, de­cent so­cial hous­ing).

Main­tain­ing sta­bil­ity through vary­ing life cir­cum­stances (e.g. dis­abil­ity, poor health) and ma­jor life stages and tran­si­tions (e.g. rais­ing fam­i­lies, mov­ing into the work­force, re­train­ing) re­quire forms of sup­port be­yond only an in­come trans­fer. Tax sup­ported hu­man ser­vices and care pro­duce not only rel­a­tive sta­bil­ity through our life paths but also so­cial co­he­sion and in­clu­sion.

Mak­ing a uni­ver­sal ba­sic in­come model the pri­mary form of so­cial pro­tec­tion may risk leav­ing the pro­vi­sion of es­sen­tial hu­man ser­vices to the mar­ket­place. Would a ba­sic in­come pro­gram just be­come an­other con­ve­nient route for govern­ment to off-load its re­spon­si­bil­i­ties for so­cial pro­vi­sion to in­di­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies?

In terms of dig­nity, ba­sic in­come ad­vo­cates ar­gue com­pellingly that a uni­ver­sal in­come guar­an­tee would elim­i­nate the stigma of means test­ing. Fur­ther, de­cou­pling in­come from “labour force at­tach­ment” will free peo­ple up to of­fer their skills and tal­ents to per­son­ally cho­sen ar­eas of en­deav­our and con­tri­bu­tion to so­ci­ety.

Doubt­less true for some, but this rea­son­ing ab­solves gov­ern­ments from any se­ri­ous com­mit­ment to a strong labour mar­ket pol­icy to cre­ate de­cent em­ploy­ment for all in the econ­omy of the fu­ture. Many at the mar­gins with­out ed­u­ca­tion or en­tre­pre­neur­ial in­cli­na­tions may well end up hov­er­ing around the poverty line for their en­tire lives.

Why not the same public pol­icy guar­an­tees to the mean­ing and value of work in the con­struc­tion of hu­man dig­nity and the cre­ation of a com­mon good? While the tra­di­tional econ­omy flags in job cre­ation, there is no lack of work needed to build and strengthen our so­cial and civic in­fra­struc­ture. Re­bal­anc­ing our econ­omy from one tilted heav­ily to­ward pri­vate wealth cre­ation to one of col­lec­tive stew­ard­ship of our hu­man and fi­nan­cial re­sources of­fers shared opportunity for all.

We sug­gest that an On­tario pi­lot should test more than only the im­pact of a ba­sic in­come guar­an­tee. A more flex­i­ble experiment fo­cus­ing on cer­tain pop­u­la­tion groups rather than on one or two geo­graphic ar­eas could also show how in­come pro­grams, adap­tive hu­man ser­vice sup­ports, and em­ploy­ment in the civic and non­profit sec­tors might com­bine in mu­tu­ally re­in­forc­ing ways to re­spond to the vary­ing life cir­cum­stances and con­di­tions of dif­fer­ent groups.

How could ad­e­quate in­come sup­port and tran­si­tional ser­vices make the path from ed­u­ca­tion to the labour force smooth for young peo­ple? A Youth In­come Ben­e­fit for young peo­ple would en­able “debt free” learn­ing and train­ing sup­ports for tran­si­tion into work in the new econ­omy.

Given the so­cially and en­vi­ron­men­tally use­ful work to be done, why not guar­an­tee work­ing age adults both train­ing and civic em­ploy­ment at liv­ing wages in the non-profit and lo­cal public ser­vices sec­tors?

Go­ing fur­ther, a pi­lot could test a flex­i­ble mix of in­come ben­e­fits, full- and part-time em­ploy­ment op­tions and ac­com­mo­dat­ing in­di­vid­u­al­ized ser­vice sup­ports for per­sons with phys­i­cal, in­tel­lec­tual and men­tal health con­di­tions. This would en­gage and lib­er­ate a vastly un­tapped hu­man re­source for com­mu­nity ben­e­fit.

Test­ing only ba­sic in­come mod­els may be short-sighted. A pol­icy pack­age com­bin­ing in­come se­cu­rity with sta­bi­liz­ing public ser­vices and dig­ni­fy­ing work would bet­ter re­flect a vi­sion of an eq­ui­table, in­clu­sive and so­cially just fu­ture for all Cana­di­ans.


A masked videog­ra­pher tapes events dur­ing the Oc­cupy Van­cou­ver group assem­bly in Van­cou­ver in 2011. A grass­roots protest move­ment that be­gan in the United States crossed the bor­der as Cana­di­ans across the coun­try gath­ered to demon­strate against so­cial in­equal­ity and cor­po­rate greed.

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