Pre-budget: It’s time for Basic Income

Canadians are at the breaking point. There is a solution!

Inflation, economic uncertainty and growing levels of poverty and inequality are taking a toll that Canada has the capacity to prevent. The solution is a well-designed basic income that learns from the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and our existing partial basic income programs for families with children and seniors, the Basic Income Canada Network (BICN) argues in its pre-budget advice to the federal government.

The experience of the Covid-19 pandemic created the opportunity to learn from the CERB’s great success in stabilizing household incomes and the economy, as well as its flaws, says BICN Chair Sheila Regehr. Now, rather than lurching from one issue to another and dealing with one crisis at a time, BICN urges the federal government to follow its own emergency preparedness guidelines—and  start with prevention.

“A basic income isn’t a perfect, magical solution, like a unicorn that will solve every social and economic problem we face,” Regehr says. “But it is a remarkably good workhorse. If everyone has enough money to put food on the table, a roof over their heads, maintain their dignity, and exercise options to be part of the economy, we are all better able to solve other problems.”

Widespread labour shortages are an example of a challenge that a basic income could help meet, the brief notes: you can’t be at a job if you’re standing in line at a food bank or a shelter. 

Thanks to the CERB, poverty and inequality rates dropped noticeably during the worst of Covid-19 in 2020, exceeding the government’s own targets, thanks to pandemic benefits that were rolled out in a rush. Now we’re falling behind again. By fixing the flaws in those temporary benefits and creating a fairer, permanent, national income security system, we can achieve even more. Canada already has successful guaranteed incomes for seniors and children; our governments know how to do this. So let’s not rush, nor waste any more time!

Maritimers are picking up the pieces from post-tropical storm Fiona, the kind of extreme weather event that is becoming more frequent and disrupting livelihoods. Inflation is soaring, and food bank use, household debt, and bankruptcies are overwhelming Canadians everywhere. It doesn’t have to be this way. The very high cost of solving these hardships after they happen can be averted by investing more wisely up front.

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