A basic income guarantee should be a human right, advocates say

By Roderick Benns

On International Human Rights Day, a Perth, Ontario man says he believes a basic income guarantee for all should be one of those human rights.  

Rob Rainer, a well-known basic income advocate, says he believes that basic income is a means “to help ensure that such internationally recognized social and economic rights as the right to food, housing and a standard of living adequate for the health of oneself and one’s family, are honoured and protected.”

A basic income guarantee is known by many names, including a guaranteed annual income, a minimum income and a negative income tax, among others. 

But the essence is that it ensures everyone an income that is sufficient to meet their basic needs, regardless of work status. It provides a direct cash transfer to the people who most need economic security. 

“The principal reason I am fighting for a basic income guarantee,” says Rainer, “is that I believe, deeply, that basic income should be a human right. That’s part of why the international Human Rights Day is so important to me.” 

Joe Foster, a long-time basic income advocate from the Ottawa area and Human Rights critic for the federal Green Party, says we shouldn’t “miss the opportunity to respond to the greatest violation of Human Rights – the lack of sufficient funds to meet basic needs.” 

Foster believes a new and “enlightened” federal government will allow for the possibility of this message to get through. 

He points out Article 25 within the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly on this day in Paris in 1948:

“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

Foster says, “In light of changes that have been brought about by

globalization and technology, a basic income is the logical and efficient way to move towards eliminating poverty. Canada has the capability to do this.”

Rainer agrees. He notes that the Declaration of Human Rights and related international human rights law represent, in the words of former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Louise Arbour, “an international consensus on the minimum conditions for a life of dignity.” 

It's Rainer’s intent to help “make 2016 a breakthrough year for gaining a basic income guarantee for everyone in Canada.”

Sheila Regehr, chair of the Basic Income Canada Network, says "Canada and Canadians have played an important part in drafting, negotiating, adopting and defending international Human Rights instruments. We have also done a great deal to foster and uphold those rights at home."

While this should be celebrated, Regehr says, she notes Canada is far from done.

"And we will not be done because our world and our circumstances will change so we must be vigilant. Poverty, insecurity, homelessness, the growing need for food banks, and precarious employment are all evidence that we need to deliberately move forward because we are falling behind," she points out.

Regehr says "we urgently need a basic income guarantee for all" because the "exercise of our human rights, in a country like Canada that is democratic, highly developed and highly monetized, depends on being able to meet basic needs and participate in society."