An Ontario government proposal for a three-year pilot project to study a Basic Income program in Ontario must not be used as an excuse to delay action on poverty, the President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) says.

“There is nothing wrong with studying new ways to deliver income supports,” Warren (Smokey) Thomas said today. “The problem is, people are homeless now. Children are hungry now. Ontarians were homeless and hungry when the Liberals got elected in 2003, and they still are to this day.

“Studying is fine, but for goodness sake, raise social assistance rates now.”

Affordable housing, rising living costs, and transportation and access to services.

Those are the main challenges rural communities in Middlesex County face when dealing with poverty in their communities, according to a roundtable on poverty in small towns that took place in Strathroy Wednesday.

The event was organized by local MPP Monte McNaughton, who said his goal was to listen to the stories and concerns from people on the front line dealing with poverty, so he can take those issues to the provincial government.

“We just want to get that first-hand knowledge on how poverty is impacting our local families,” he said. “I have been an MPP for five years now, and every year our office and I have identified rural poverty as a growing issue. We hear the stories of people living in cars, of people living in garden sheds here in our small towns, and I think it is a disservice to those people that the government is not raising this issue.

The Canadian province of Ontario is to start giving some 2,500 people a basic income – money with no strings attached.

The project, which is expected to start later this year, is being designed to test whether a basic income should be given to all Ontarians living in poverty.

‘The government basically believes that if people have the security of knowing their basic necessities are taken care of, they will contribute to society,’ Dr Helena Jaczek, the minister running the scheme, told Apolitical. ‘And this is the point of the pilot, to see: what is the behaviour change? Does that security give you the capacity and willingness to improve education, get retrained, have fewer trips to the emergency room because you’re not subject to that ongoing stress?’

People in the trial are to receive C$1,320 (around US$970) per month, equivalent to three-quarters of what is defined as a low income (although the amount and the number if people it will be given to are still under discussion, albeit that the government has budgeted C$25million for three years). Depending on how the trial is designed, the recipients may continue to get that amount regardless of whether they find work and earn extra money. In any case, the government will guarantee that those people will always have an income of at least that amount, one way or another.

‘One of the problems we have with existing systems is that if someone does find work, there will be a clawback of benefits, not just financial benefits, but things like free medical care and housing support,’ Hugh Segal, a former senator and basic income advocate who wrote the study on which the trial is being based, told Apolitical. ‘You end up with the contradiction that welfare programmes keep people trapped in poverty. So the challenge becomes: can you craft a programme that has a better impact than that?’