Basic income a complex issue, summit hears
Summit panellists agree ending poverty is a social priority, but debate the viability of a guaranteed income
Is basic income the answer? Many believe in the long-discussed idea of implementing a universal wage, but there are some strings attached.
The Cities Reducing Poverty Summit at the Hamilton Convention Centre came to a close on Thursday with a panel discussion on basic income, along with remarks by PV Labs CEO Mark Chamberlain to end the week of business engagement and learning.
The panel — moderated by Laura Babcock, president of Powergroup Communications — featured Senator Art Eggleton, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives senior economist Armine Yalnizyan, Mood Benders Support Services president John Mills, and Michael Mendelson, senior scholar of the Caledon Institute of Social Policy.
“Basic income does address a lot of different types of questions,” Yalnizyan said. “One of them is, ‘Is basic income the answer to poverty reduction?’ The other is, ‘Is basic income the answer to a jobless future, or a future in which working is no guarantee of getting out of poverty?’”
While all panellists agreed that ending poverty is a social priority, sides formed in the discussion around whether basic income is a viable and responsible solution.
Basic income is a social policy that, if implemented, would give citizens a guaranteed wage from the government. Several regions, including Hamilton, have been negotiating a potential pilot program to test if it’s a viable solution to reduce poverty.
Yalnizyan and Mendelson were skeptical of how effective a basic income could be, saying it would not raise citizens above the poverty line and would likely lead to cuts in social programming.
“What we need is living wages for every single job that is in the labour market, or you can’t afford a basic income,” Yalnizyan said. “You can’t have a basic income unless you have solidarity in society to pay for it.”
Eggleton and Mills expressed support for a basic income pilot. “Basic income is a requirement,” said Mills. “In the short term, it’s going to solve immediate problems, and I think it’s something that we’re going to have to think about in the long term, as well.”
“The new jobs that are being created and the wealth that is being created are going to the higher-income folks,” said Eggleton. “What about the lower-income folks? That’s the problem we’ve got to deal with.
“Nobody should be any worse off under any pilot project or any permanent basic income system,” Eggleton continued. “That is absolutely the goal.”
Chamberlain of PV Labs, a Burlingtonbased firm that specializes in aerial imaging systems, stressed society must revisit social issues, such as the gender wage gap and how public health care affects the poor, to find new ways to deal with poverty.
“You could have easily called this conference cities increasing health,” said Chamberlain. “It comes down to individuals. If we don’t make fundamental changes, a living wage, (an increased) minimum wage, we will not change the system.”
Chamberlain has a background in engineering and says looking at poverty through the lens of social equations will aid in coming up with more reliable long-term solutions.
Mark Chamberlain of PV Labs calls for “fundamental changes”on wages.