Would a Universal Basic Income work in Canada?
A movement is seemingly afoot across Canada and around the world, one calling on governments to deliver a basic income guarantee for citizens in replacement of other government assistance programs, all in the name of fighting poverty and reducing inequality.
With pilot projects on guaranteed income currently in the planning stages in both Ontario and PEI, a non-profit group called Basic Income Canada Network has now reached the 11,000 signature mark on its petition in support of a nation-wide basic income guarantee.
“Given the past federal election, you see a completely different mood in Canada now,” said Basic Income Canada Network chair Sheila Regehr, last year to the CBC. “I think a lot of people have been interested, but lying low — and it’s just bubbling up now, all over.”
The basic premise is that all adults meeting certain criteria are provided with a base amount of money to live on, in replacement of other social assistance and unconnected to any special requirements. Basic income proponents see it as a way to curb poverty, improve communities and cut costs on things like hospital and police services.
The Ontario government is currently searching for the right locale to launch its pilot project, which will see one region (a town or an area within a bigger municipality) set up with a guaranteed basic income for qualifying adults, amounting to a minimum of $1,320 per month with an additional $500 for those with disabilities. In Peterborough, residents gathered recently to hear more about the proposed project, with Jason Hartwick, co-chair of the Basic Income Peterborough Network, saying that reining in poverty has a lot of good social consequences. “Basic income is not a cure-all – but poverty makes other problems worse,” said Hartwick to the Peterborough Examiner. “The most detrimental thing to anyone’s health is poverty.”
Around the world, the idea is picking up steam. On January 1st of this year, Finland became the first European country to give the concept a try, implementing a two-year pilot project which pays 2,000 unemployed Finns aged 25 to 58 a guaranteed income of 560 euros per month (roughly $785 Cdn). The government says that it hopes the initiative will help cut red tape in the social assistance branch, along with lessening poverty and boosting employment.
“For someone receiving a basic income, there are no repercussions if they work a few days or a couple of weeks,” said Marjukka Turunen, of Finland’s social security body, Kela, to the Guardian. “Working and self-employment are worthwhile no matter what.”
In Oakland, California, a group of tech entrepreneurs has taken a shine to the idea and have launched a project last year with Y Combinator, which is providing 100 families in the Oakland area a monthly stipend of between $1,000 and $2,000 USD. Supporters of the program see it as another approach to rolling out disruptive technologies, this one aimed at addressing inequalities that characterize the modern workforce.
“The motivation behind the project is to begin exploring alternatives to the existing social safety net,” Elizabeth Rhodes, the research director for Y Combinator’s UBI project, to Quartz. “If technology eliminates jobs or jobs continue to become less secure, an increasing number of people will be unable to make ends meet with earnings from employment.”
Canada has a history with the guaranteed income idea, having conducted a five-year experiment dubbed Mincome (minimum income) in the late 1970s in the town of Dauphin, Manitoba