Let’s lift all Ca­na­dians out of po­verty

T he ti­me has co­me for Ca na­da to ha vea dia­lo­gue abou tan a ti onal­ba­sic in co­me pro gr am

La Jornada (Canada) - - PORTADA -

Aba­sic in­co­me gua­ran­tee has been back in the news a lot la­tely, thanks to Mark Zuc­ker­berg, Ri­chard Bran­son, Elon Musk and ot­her tech giants who have pu­blicly en­dor­sed the con­cept. But it’s not just talk in Ca­na­da. On­ta­rio is pi­lo­ting a ba­sic in­co­me across th­ree ci­ties, Que­bec has brought in a ba­sic in­co­me for tho­se who have a li­mi­ted ca­pa­city to work, and the B.C. go­vern­ment just set asi­de $4 mi­llion to in­ves­ti­ga­te the fea­si­bi­lity of a ba­sic in­co­me in its re­cent bud­get. Ot­her Ca­na­dian pro­vin­ces and coun­tries are ob­ser­ving the­se mea­su­res clo­sely.

Ca­na­da’s Se­na­te al­so pas­sed a mo­tion with cross-par­ti­san sup­port to have the fe­de­ral go­vern­ment con­si­der a na­tio­nal ba­sic in­co­me pi­lot pro­ject.

The idea has legs across the po­li­ti­cal spec­trum. Why is it re­so­na­ting so wi­dely?

A ba­sic in­co­me can ta­ke dif­fe­rent forms, in­clu­ding a uni­ver­sal ba­sic in­co­me (the form pro­po­sed by many tech bi­llio­nai­res) or a ne­ga­ti­ve in­co­me tax (as in On­ta­rio and Que­bec), for exam­ple. But the ge­ne­ral con­cept is to pro­vi­de ci­ti­zens li­ving be­low the po­verty li­ne with un­con­di­tio­nal cash pay­ments to help ma­ke ends meet re­gard­less of their em­ploy­ment. The ob­jec­ti­ve is to gi­ve every- one enough to meet the ba­sic needs of li­fe and rai­se them out of po­verty.

The idea has its cri­tics. So­me pun­dits spe­cu­la­te that the hefty cost alo­ne may in­crea­se ta­xes for ever­yo­ne, in­clu­ding ba­sic in­co­me re­ci­pients.

But re­search de­mons­tra­tes a ba­sic in­co­me may im­pro­ve the qua­lity of li­fe and health, spe­ci­fi­cally the men­tal well-being, of re­ci­pients. Re­search shows po­verty, along with the ma­te­rial and so­cial de­pri­va­tion it brings, is a de­ter­mi­nant of poor men­tal health of Ca­na­dians. As 4.8 mi­llion peo­ple li­ve be­low the low-in­co­me mea­su­re in Ca­na­da - that’s a lot of peo­ple who could be di­rectly ai­ded

by a gua­ran­teed ba­sic in­co­me.

Po­verty is a re­sult of in­se­cu­re em­ploy­ment or unem­ploy­ment, de­pri­ving in­di­vi­duals of suf­fi­cient in­co­mes for ba­sic needs such as food, hou­sing and tran­sit. As the qua­lity of li­fe ero­des, the stress of­ten leads to men­tal health is­sues, such as de­pres­sion and an­xiety. A re­cent On­ta­rio study found food in­se­cu­rity to be a pre­dic­tor of hig­her men­tal health-ca­re uti­li­za- tion for wor­king-age adults.

Ha­ving a ba­sic in­co­me would gi­ve in­di­vi­duals ac­cess to ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties, pre­ven­ting chro­nic stress. It may al­so re­sult in de­crea­sed use of the health sys­tem.

Ca­na­da had a ba­sic in­co­me pro­gram in the 1970s, tar­ge­ting Win­ni­peg and the small town of Daup­hin, Man. Min­co­me was a gua­ran­teed an­nual in­co­me ex­pe­ri­ment fun­ded by the fe­de­ral and pro­vin­cial go­vern­ments. For th­ree years, the pro­ject pro­vi­ded an an­nual gua­ran­teed in­co­me to fa­mi­lies li­ving be­low the po­verty li­ne to as­sess whet­her it would dis­cou­ra­ge re­ci­pients from wor­king.

De­ca­des af­ter the pro­ject was shel­ved, re­search on its im­pact con­clu­ded that Min­co­me did not dis­cou­ra­ge work. Two main groups, ho­we­ver, had in­crea­sed unem­ploy­ment ra­tes du­ring this ti­me: school-aged ma­les and new mot­hers. But high school gra­dua­tion ra­tes in­crea­sed with this group of ma­les not nee­ding to work to sup­port their fa­mi­lies and new mot­hers we­re gi­ven the chance to stay ho­me with their chil­dren wit­hout the pres­su­re of ha­ving in­suf­fi­cient in­co­me to sur­vi­ve.

Most in­ter­es­tingly, Dr. Evelyn For­get’s re­search on Min­co­me shows the­re we­re fe­wer hos­pi­ta­li­za­tions due to ac­ci­dents, in­ju­ries and men­tal health is­sues du­ring this pe­riod. Re­ci­pients flou­ris­hed un­der the pi­lot, with no­ti­cea­ble so­cial and health be­ne­fits.

Forty years la­ter, the work­for­ce is dra­ma­ti­cally chan­ging: mi­llen­nials work pre­ca­rious jobs wit­hout be­ne­fits and tech­no­logy is dis­pla­cing ol­der, ex­pe­rien­ced wor­kers and ma­king it har­der for them to com­pe­te.

Ad­di­tio­nally, in or­der to ac­cess most pro­vin­cial wel­fa­re sys­tems, ap­pli­cants must con­sis­tently pro­ve their need and are ex­pec­ted to fo­llow strict eli­gi­bi­lity con­di­tions on­ce they re­cei­ve funds - a pro­cess that’s both pa­ter­na­lis­tic and un­dig­ni­fied. This le­vel of mis­trust is it­self a stres­sor. Re­ci­pients of On­ta­rio Works, for exam­ple, des­cri­be­fee­ling de­gra­ded by the ty­pe of treat­ment they re­cei­ve, which lo­wers their self-es­teem and cau­ses wor­se­ning men­tal health con­di­tions, such as de­pres­sion.

With a gua­ran­teed an­nual in­co­me, re­ci­pients will fa­ce less stress not ha­ving to fo­llow strict eli­gi­bi­lity con­di­tions. And they will have the fle­xi­bi­lity, con­fi­den­ce and dig­nity to spend their mo­ney at their dis­cre­tion on their im­me­dia­te needs.

The im­pact of ba­sic in­co­me is clear: in­di­vi­duals will be able to ca­re for them­sel­ves and their fa­mi­lies, re­gard­less of em­ploy­ment sta­tus.

On­ta­rio and Que­bec’s con­cre­te steps to­ward ba­sic in­co­me are a great start, but the idea needs to be dis­cus­sed clear across the country, in­vol­ving po­licy-ma­kers from all sec­tors and all le­vels of go­vern­ment.

Ba­sic in­co­me would help ma­ke Ca­na­da a healt­hier and mo­re equi­ta­ble pla­ce for fa­mi­lies to grow and flou­rish. It’s ti­me we had a na­tio­nal dia­lo­gue on the ca­se for ba­sic in­co­me.-TROYMEDIA Vi­nus­ha Gu­na­see­lan is a se­cond­year Health Ser­vi­ces Re­search MSc stu­dent stud­ying at the Uni­ver­sity of To­ron­to.

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