New government, new policies

The uncertainty of the global economy, an increase in precarious employment induced by the mechanization of jobs, has led to the resurgence of the basic income idea.

The idea first surfaced in the 1970s, although the global economy has since changed. Dissatisfaction with the current administration of welfare systems has also contributed to reigniting new inquiries. Basic income is capturing political imaginations across Canada.

Basic income is also known as guaranteed minimum income, universal income, guaranteed annual income, or a negative income tax.

It is essentially a social policy that would supplement various welfare programs by providing a baseline amount of money to all citizens, regardless of whether they work or meet a means test.

This streamlined approach would replace existing social assistance programs, and would provide much-needed income security for the increasing numbers of Canadians in precarious and part-time work.

Many correlate a new understanding of demographics as the reason behind seeing minimum income as a poverty reduction tool, with an emphasis on providing impoverished families upward mobility.

If designed correctly, it should also eliminate some of the perverse incentives of the “welfare wall” that institutionalize poverty in Canada.

The election of the new Liberal government has certainly transpired new such changes, as many speculate that it is because of a new government in power that the idea of basic income is being entertained by not only politicians, but the general public as well.

The Liberal government adopted a resolution to create a basic annual income during its 2014 policy convention. Liberal-appointed Senator Art Eggleton recently put forward a motion calling on the federal government to sponsor a pilot project to study the idea, and it was announced that Ontario’s provincial budget included funds for a basic income pilot project.

The Mincome pilot in Manitoba in the 1970s, found that a basic income guarantee (BIG) did not cause people to stop working and that poverty is the biggest determinant of health.

As such, we should expect to see significant improvements in health among recipients of a basic income. For example, the Mincome data showed that under a BIG, hospital visits dropped by 8.5 per cent. This included fewer emergency room visits from car crashes and domestic abuse, and fewer mental health visits,” as shown by the Mincome data.

Among other factors, the diversity of the Ontario province should be considered in terms of inner city, rural and suburban populations, and also take into account the province’s social and cultural diversity.

The Ontario government’s plans to pilot a BIG should be applauded, as the implementation will alleviate socio-economic barriers that the most vulnerable face in our communities.