Basic income: social assistance without the stigma

By David Calnitsky

By now the Mincome experiment is well known. In the 1970s, every resident of Dauphin, a small Manitoba town, was given the option to collect substantial cash payments without work requirements.

Economist Evelyn Forget’s findings about Mincome’s positive effects on health and education helped to resuscitate the concept of a basic income in Canada. With basic income pilots on the horizon, it is worth considering new lessons from an old experiment.

One of the most important, but overlooked, virtues of basic income is the absence of social stigma. The routine humiliation of the poor, an enduring feature of highly conditional social assistance systems, melts away in a universally available basic income regime. As one Dauphin participant wrote midway through the experiment, “It trusts the Canadian people and leaves a man or woman, their pride.”

Mincome collected data on an extraordinary range of issues, most of which sat in boxes for decades. I have been digitizing a number of those lost surveys, and I recently reported on findings related to social stigma during the Mincome years.

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