Letter: Would a Basic Income Guarantee Improve Lives on the Saugeen Bruce Peninsula?

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Learning About BIG

How would a Basic Income Guarantee affect your life? Given the changes that the Covid-19 emergency is bringing to our lives, it seems like a good time to reflect on how we live on the Peninsula. Folks talk about hoping to get back to normal. Others say ‘normal’ with significant poverty in Canada and Canada’s world-leading greenhouse gas emissions per capita means that the global pause caused by the pandemic provides an opportunity to envision a different ‘normal’. Here on the Saugeen Bruce Peninsula, we can ask: what new normal do we aspire to? One aspect of this is how folks make income.

Introduction of the Community Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) provides an opportunity to re-visit the concept of a Basic Income Guarantee (BIG), also referred to as a Guaranteed Annual Income. 

Basic income in Canada today

Canada has had a few important ‘starts’ on getting to the BIG but our history leaves many looking for more inclusion. Currently, the most significant income guarantees are provided for seniors and children. 

Old Age Security is provided as a “demogrant”, meaning that almost all adults on reaching 65 can receive it. It is an amount of money provided regularly to individual seniors, regardless of family status, past or present work status or other income. In addition, the Guaranteed Income Supplement is provided to seniors with low income. 

Children’s benefits share similarities. Income guarantees for seniors and children work in tandem with an abundance of public services. As noted above, in response to the Covid-19 crisis, the federal government introduced the CERB, providing eligible Canadians with $2,000/month until September 2020 – while not all Canadians are eligible, it is a form of basic guaranteed income; a simple but short-term BIG.

Basic income is not welfare

For working-age Canadians, overall there is little income security in the event of job loss, disability, divorce, prolonged illness and treatment, maternity, economic recession and other life events. For those in this age range, Canada’s “last resort” income floor is provided by welfare (“social assistance” programs such as ‘Ontario Works’) and it is very unlike a basic income concept. There is no universality, for there are different income floors for different categories of people in different parts of the country. There are many complex rules and conditions that do not apply to other people, often discouraging work effort and causing stress and poor health. In many cases welfare provides an income nowhere near to meeting basic needs. It is a throwback to an earlier time that is not suitable to life in a modern, affluent democracy. Welfare is not a basic income.

A New Reality

Ever increasing rates of technological change are creating a new reality in which automation is replacing human labour, making life better in many ways, but also taking away livelihoods. Employment is increasingly insecure, the economy is shedding jobs, and much socially valuable work continues to go unrewarded. Some people are doing very well while many Canadians are losing ground–in income and wealth as well as in control of time, the ability to raise families and other aspects of citizenship that have been dependent on stable employment. A basic income is key to creating a future that offers security and dignity for all while ensuring a fairer distribution of work, wealth, income and participation in society.

Basic income: an idea whose time has come

The advent of universal public health care changed Canadians’ lives profoundly: quality medical care provided on the basis of our health, not our bank accounts, makes Canada a more equal, affordable and healthy place to live. Universal social supports still do not cover other essential needs such as pharmaceuticals and child care. Other challenges such as affordable housing and affordable transportation need more attention. 

How would a BIG affect your life? Are you benefiting from the CERB right now? 

Our next letter investigates how the BIG might play out on the Saugeen Bruce Peninsula given our seasonal economy, small population, and older demographic. Much of the information contained in this article comes from the Basic Income Canada Network – learn more at: basic income canada.org. We hope that you and your family are finding ways to cope and recover in the months ahead. Join in this discussion and look for the next letter.

Noreen Steinacher

and Brian McHattie