Basic income creates the financial security we need

Sheila Regehr, Basic Income Canada Network

Mitchell Beer, Energy Mix Productions

There are two basic problems with Sen. Diane Bellemare’s recent analysis on basic income policy (A basic income would be an unfair, complicated and costly way to eliminate poverty, 4/27/2022, The Globe and Mail.). It misinterprets the data it relies on. And it misses the severe impact of inequality and precarity in worsening the other overlapping crises our society faces.

Contrary to Bellemare’s position, the Policy Options report by the Basic Income Canada Network (BICN) shows clearly that a basic income can deliver fairer, simpler, more effective income security to tackle inequality, insecurity and poverty. The need is urgent and it can deliver help fast.

The three design options in the January, 2020 BICN report were nothing if not prescient, all setting a maximum close to the amount the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) would soon provide. The rigorous modelling is not based on utopian ideas, as Bellemare suggests, but on actual tax/transfer data. All the options are funded by better investing the money Canada is already spending. And they all measurably reduce inequality and prevent poverty, while rewarding employment, providing security to middle-income earners, and ensuring that the wealthy and corporations pay a fair share.

The option that makes most sense builds on income guarantees already delivered to seniors and families with children under 18, extending comparable income security to 18-64 year olds. These guarantees are based on income but not work status. The amount gradually reduces as other income increases so people can get ahead—unlike social assistance rules and program gaps that create enormous employment disincentives by failing to deliver adequate support for adults while they are working.

Constitutional issues may arise, but Canadian governments have shown they can co-operate successfully on seniors and children’s benefits, as well as health care, pensions and child care, just as they should for a basic income. With Bill S-233, Senator Kim Pate creates the catalyst for the federal government to bring other jurisdictions and stakeholders to the table to design the basic income we so desperately need.

It’ll take hard, concentrated work. But the searing reality is that we must get on with it. The design challenges pale in comparison with the struggles that too many citizens and residents in this country endure every day.

What many of us experience as ‘affordability’ issues are lived as trauma by those who can’t stretch their money any further. No other services or targeted programs, as valuable as they may be, can replace the need for money that people themselves are free to use to manage their unique situations in our complex, dynamic and unpredictable lives.

That message came through loud and clear from the more than 900 participants in 33 diverse community conversations in the past year exploring the links between income insecurity and climate crisis. The Green Resilience Project Report showed all ways in which income insecurity impedes community resilience and climate action. We heard from people who couldn’t buy an air conditioner in an extreme heat wave, protect their home from floods, or afford insurance. Others were working so hard to survive that they had no time to support local food initiatives or think of better, fairer, more sustainable, more pleasing ways to make a living.

Participants wanted to work together to solve the urgent economic and environmental challenges in their communities, but had no time or resources to get started. Together, they painted a picture of how real income security allows everyone to thrive in and contribute to an equitable, low-carbon future.

As one participant explained: “It’s not like we’re lacking in the people wanting to make these changes. We just aren’t the people who have the power to do it.”

A basic income creates that financial security. It gives everyone the time and energy to retrain, reskill or shift to a new job, engage in care work, pursue innovative solutions to the challenges in their lives, and meaningfully contribute to their communities. It can help ensure that no one is left behind in a rapid environmental and economic transition.

That calls for Senators and MPs to work across the aisle, abandon old myths in favour of actual data, and deliver a basic income that serves us all.