A basic income guarantee (BIG) ensures everyone an income sufficient to meet basic needs and live with dignity, regardless of work status.
We have a type of basic income for seniors that has greatly improved quality of life compared to previous generations. We also have a type for children under 18. However, for adults raising the next generations and driving current and future prosperity, there is very little. A job, a good work history and even a good education do not necessarily offer security in today’s economy. The last and sometimes only resort, “welfare”, is the opposite of basic income. With few exceptions, it provides too little, too late, with too many conditions. It produces stigma and suffering and it penalizes work. Welfare entangles workers, clients and other Canadians alike in an unhealthy, expensive and complicated trap. A basic income guarantee (BIG) would encompass all Canadians under the same system.
First, it’s relatively simple. With the security of a regular, direct basic income, all Canadians are free to manage their own and their family’s unique circumstances much faster and more effectively than any bureaucracy can. Women and men can better rebound from financial setbacks, balance shifting employment and family care needs, protect their health and recover from illness or injury. Parents can save and plan a better future for their children. Adults can take positive steps like getting more education, retraining or trying a job in an emerging sector of the economy, without the fear and real risk of losing almost everything if it doesn’t work out.
Second, it prevents poverty. That means many expensive and often long-term consequences of poverty are avoided such as poorer health, lower success rates in school, higher crime rates.
Third, a BIG doesn’t just help individual recipients – it has a larger impact because it reduces excessive inequalities and human insecurities that are at the root of many societal problems. It fosters resilience and flexibility in a changing economy. It’s good for cities struggling to create vibrant neighbourhoods and strong communities. It’s good for democracy because as much as voting in elections matters, in our monetized society we vote every day with our dollars for the kind of life we want, a vote that increasingly excludes many Canadians.
No, it can’t and shouldn’t be expected to. Basic income does not lessen the need for labour laws that govern workplace conditions, protect contracts and support unionization, or the need for good economic policy. It does not diminish the value of other public services, such as health care, child care, and supports for people with disabilities, seniors, people who face historical disadvantage and newcomers to Canada. It is a powerful complement to help those systems get better results. It can also complement existing income security measures. Some of these may be less needed with time but remain important, especially during a transition period. The legacy of past problems will not disappear overnight and other gradual transformations will unfold as this bold and practical social innovation matures.
Basic income is meant to help ensure the meeting of basic needs: for the “wants” in life, income from other sources is necessary. The vast majority of people work to earn well beyond what they need for basics –
and many people who are well off remain in the workforce. Moreover, by stabilizing financial security, basic income helps promote engagement in paid work of various kinds – with greater choice (freedom) as to the type of work. It also enables people to balance work in the labour market with the valuable work they do outside the market for family, friends and community. For jobs that are comparatively unpleasant, employers may need to provide better working conditions, for example raising wages and providing attractive benefits.
Only a small fraction of our nation’s wealth, so yes, we can afford it. The more important question is “Will we get value for our money?” Even conservative estimates of the indirect costs of poverty (e.g., in health care, remedial education, crime, social programs, and lost productivity) are far higher than the costs of actually bringing Canadians out of poverty. For the billions we are paying now, the result is....more poverty and social problems. A basic income guarantee can change that. It is an investment where we get something back for our money – a better standard of living and quality of life for all of us, a healthier population, less poverty, and greater trust and security in our society. Plus, it pays for itself. Basic income can be one of the great bargains of Canada’s future!
There are a number of options and many practical considerations to explore. In the world of public policy, it is rare that everyone gets everything they desire, even in the case of a basic income that has advantages from so many perspectives. That is why we have identified key principles that we believe must be weighed and balanced to get the best possible basic income guarantee (BIG) for Canadians. Those principles include, but are not limited to, universality of and limited conditionality of access to basic income, adequacy (sufficient to help ensure basic needs can be met) and therefore security, autonomy and dignity.