Ba­sic income a complex is­sue, sum­mit hears

Sum­mit pan­el­lists agree end­ing poverty is a so­cial pri­or­ity, but debate the vi­a­bil­ity of a guar­an­teed income

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - ALEX YORKE

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.

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