Peterborough councillor ready to adopt basic income

By Roderick Benns 

Publisher of Leaders and Legacies, a social purpose news site

As the City of Peterborough considers whether to support a basic income guarantee, at least one councillor is ready to offer her support right now.

Councillor Diane Therrien, known for her support of many social justice issues, is also the facilitator of community education and engagement with the Peterborough Poverty Reduction Network.

“I’m happy to support basic income policy,” she tells Leaders and Legacies. “I think it’s an idea that is long overdue.”

The City of Kingston became the first municipality in Canada to call for the development of a basic income guarantee for all Canadians. Its council unanimously passed a motion calling for a national discussion on the issue, hoping this will lead the provinces and federal government to work together to “consider, investigate, and develop a Basic Income Guarantee for all Canadians.”

The resolution was forwarded to all municipalities in Ontario with the request that they consider indicating their own support for the initiative. While the County of Peterborough has already shown its support for the Kingston motion, Therrien says some councillors at the City level want more background information on the topic since some were not familiar with it.

A basic income would ensure that no Canadian would ever drop below the poverty line. In one of the most common models, a basic income threshold is established – say, $20,000 per year per person. If someone earned $15,000 in one year, then at tax time an additional $5,000 would be given to that person, spread out over 12 months using the existing income tax system. Most people feel this would allow governments to scrap the entire welfare system and review other levels of bureaucracy, too.

“It evens the playing field,” points out Therrien. “There are so many positive cost savings from a basic income approach, especially in social services and health care.”

In the motion that originally passed at Kingston City Council, a number of reasons to support basic income were given, including income insecurity, precarious employment, inequality, and adverse public health outcomes for people living in poverty. Canada spends up to $86 billion a year in combatting poverty.

“A lot of people think this is radical, but it’s really not,” says Therrien. “There are many examples of where this has been tried” around the world.

In fact, there are current pilot projects being set up in the Netherlands and in Finland. As well:

  • In part of Namibia where an unconditional basic income grant was tried, child malnutrition dropped from 42 per cent to 10 per cent, with close to zero dropouts from school.
  • In a World Bank study, researchers gave cash transfers to families in Malawi and ended up increasing school attendance of females with the program because they could afford to go to school to better themselves and their families.
  • In eight villages in India, economist Guy Standing reports there was improved housing, better nutrition, better health outcomes, improved school attendance, and more empowerment for those with disabilities.

City of Peterborough council will most likely vote on this issue in three to six weeks time, according to Therrien.