A basic income would recognize value of unpaid work

Roderick Benns, publisher of Leaders and Legacies, recently interviewed Julia Endicott about her advocacy for a basic income guarantee. Endicott is a first year Bachelor of Education student at Queen’s University. She also holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Waterloo and a Masters of Chemistry from the University of Toronto. 

Benns: From what perspective do you approach the basic income issue? And, how did you come to be involved?

Endicott: I have always been interested in social justice and I believe wealth inequality and poverty are issues that can be addressed if people can be inspired act. I learned about the Kingston Action Group for a Basic Income Guarantee  when Toni Pickard did a guest lecture in a class I am taking as part of my Bachelor of Education at Queen’s University. I had heard of the idea before but Toni’s description of the group and the type of activism they were doing made me excited to get involved with them.

Benns: What about a basic income guarantee makes it a social justice issue?

Endicott: The United Nations declaration of human rights says that everyone has the right to an adequate standard of living. In our current system this right is not possible for many people. A basic income would recognize this right and change the way we look at food and shelter,  they aren’t privileges that you have to work for but rights that everyone should have. One goal of many social justice movements is the eradication of poverty. One of the things that drew me to the idea of a BIG is is the fact that it has a real chance of eliminating poverty. Poverty intersects with so many other forms of oppression that by addressing poverty we would also be making our society more equitable in terms of race, gender, and many other areas of injustice.

Benns: In what way would this policy show there is real value in raising a family? 

Endicott: A basic income guarantee would partially be a recognition of the value of all the unpaid work that is done. The most obvious example of this is valuing the work of parents (often women) who stay home with their children. One of the things that I find so ridiculous about our economic system is that over the last 30 years as efficiency and productivity have steadily increased it has become impossible for most families to survive off of the full-time employment income of one adult. By providing an income while parents are not working the basic income guarantee shows that this type of work is valued. It should be noted however that a basic income guarantee would be an income floor and that things like parental leaves and employment insurance would still be needed to allow people to maintain their standard of living. Since a basic income guarantee is unconditional it would also benefit people other than parents such as artists, students, volunteers, and people caring for their elders who do valuable though unpaid work in our communities.

Benns: When you imagine Canadian life with this policy in place — say 10 or 20 years of the basic income guarantee — what does the country look like? How has it changed?

Endicott: When I imagine Canada after 10 years of basic income guarantee I see a place where the people are happier, healthier, and more engaged. Government spending required for  healthcare and the criminal justice system has been significantly reduced and the savings are being used to continue funding the basic income guarantee. I think there will be more small businesses and more entrepreneurs because people will have a solid safety net to fall back on. As jobs have started to disappear in manufacturing and other industries due to automation people have used their basic income to allow them to transition to other forms of employment. One way to see what a strong effect a basic income can have on poverty levels in our future is to look at the case of seniors and the huge effect of OAS/GIS on reducing poverty amongst seniors. More people will be able to study subjects that interest them rather than what they think they need to be the most employable. There is still a divide between rich and poor and most people are employed full time to pay for their desires but everyone has enough to cover their needs. This to me is the most important thing about BIG, everyone has the ability to live with dignity making our society as a whole stronger.