Universal basic income, in the world of public policy geeks, is a bit like drones in the world of techies. Right at the moment, it’s hard to tell whether they’re the trendy obsession of a few wonky tinkerers, or the future of the world. The idea is so simple and so grand that it sounds like something a teenager might propose—“what would happen if we just gave everybody free money?” And yet versions of universal basic income are currently being tried out in countries with the most effective and innovative public services in the world. The city of Utrecht, Netherlands, has just begun a guaranteed income program; Finland is undertaking its first unconditional income supplements. Canada is now set to follow them.
My exploration of this topic led me to some provocative writing by Vu Le, who is a writer, speaker, and executive director of Rainier Valley Corps, a capacity building organization with a focus on leveling the playing field for people of colour as well as small, grass roots organizations.
I was particularly drawn to a piece he wrote on his blog about “Trickle-Down Community Engagement,” and his writing became the catalyst for one of the workshops I am doing, aptly called “Avoiding Trickle-Down Community Engagement of the Marginalized.”
March 8, 2016
People on social assistance are judged as frivolous and immoral for making ethical purchases such as organic food, while the rich are considered virtuous for the same choices, new research shows.
“We as a society judge these type of purchases, whether it’s organic or fair trade, as being good things — they have this moral halo,” said lead author Darren Dahl, senior associate dean of faculty for the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia.
“People on welfare tend to be seen as undeserving of more expensive options and wasting taxpayers’ hard-earned cash,” he said. “People feel these individuals have not earned the right to make these kinds of choices.”
March 7, 2016
The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) released their concluding observations on Canada earlier today. They gave Canada its marching orders to use international human rights across the board to address several areas of concern, including the lack of implementation and protection of economic, cultural and social rights (ESC) for the most vulnerable.
There’s an economic advantage to mincome when you consider the growing costs of poverty. Factoring in health, employment insurance, social transfers and justice system expenses, the national annual burden exceeds $70 billion. Although solutions stare us in the face, we continue to pay for widespread destitution. For example, it’d be cheaper to provide the homeless with their own apartments than having them sleep in a shelter bed that can cost $1,200 a month.
Our safety nets are all over the place: a medley of cash transfers for the old, debt relief for students, monthly support for parents and 13 distinct welfare programs make up the Canadian social assistance model.
What we’re left with is a disjointed system that sometimes fails to help much at all. To compound the problem, “welfare rates fluctuate according to political whim,” says Sheila Regehr, former director of the National Council of Welfare. “There is no rationale. There’s nothing that pegs it at a rate that means something substantial. It’s just ‘How low can we get it?’”
March 1, 2016
Poverty is the biggest determinant of health. As such, we should expect to see significant improvements in health among recipients of a basic income. For example, the Mincome data showed that under a BIG, hospital visits dropped by 8.5 per cent. This included fewer emergency room visits from car crashes and domestic abuse, and fewer mental health visits. In Ontario today, these indicators along with others — such as low birth weight, avoidable hospitalizations, and health system expenditures — are already measured, and a close look at the impact of a BIG on those metrics must be included in a basic income pilot
February 29, 2016
Rarely has a Liberal government in Ontario tabled a less child-friendly budget than Jobs for Today and Tomorrow. The highlights of the province’s 2016 financial plan – a cap-and-trade carbon-pricing scheme and free college and university tuition for lower-income students – overshadowed the absence of help for children in need.
There was a miserable 1.5-per-cent increase in social assistance rates for Ontario’s poorest families. To put that in perspective, food prices went up by 4 per cent in January. Transit fares (except for monthly Metropasses) went up by 8.3 per cent in November.