Segal says health and work behaviours key to measure in Basic Income pilot

By Roderick Benns

Retired Conservative Senator Hugh Segal’s long awaited report on Ontario’s Basic Income pilot has been released, where he emphasizes the need to understand the full costs of poverty before fairly evaluating the new pilot.

Segal recommends a monthly payment of at least $1,320 for a single person which is about 75 percent of the province’s poverty line. For those with disabilities, Segal suggests a top-up of at least $500 a month.

The retired senator says any pilot project must understand poverty’s costs, not only in the present welfare and disability payments, “but also in terms of added pressures on our health system, and the Ontario economy as a whole, through its impacts on economic productivity and existing government revenues.”

He writes that measurable outcomes (from the pilot) should include the number of primary care visits (for psycho-social, mental and physical health), the number of emergency department visits, and prescription drug use.

Careful examination of participants’ life and career choices should also be made over the duration of the pilot by participants, “such as training, family formation, fertility decisions, living arrangements, parenting time.”

Other notes of interest for researchers should include education outcomes for participants and their children, and the nature and number of courses taken by adults, he says.

Work behaviour, job search and employment status

Segal says the public’s desire to understand how a basic income might affect work behaviours makes this area important to track, too.

According to Segal’s paper, measurable outcomes with regard to work behaviours should include:

  • the number of hours of paid work
  • the number of jobs held
  • the income earned on the labour market
  • the intensity and length of job search activities.

“The impact of a Basic Income on labour market participation remains one of the main concerns of the Canadian population,” he says, pointing to an August 2016 Angus Reid Institute poll, showing 63 percent of the country’s population believes that a Basic Income would discourage people from working.

Segal notes the introduction of a Basic Income pilot for individuals currently receiving Ontario Works would provide additional incentives to join the workforce, by allowing them to keep a substantial part of their earned income in addition to their Basic Income.

“…a careful evaluation of the impact of a Basic Income on people’s decisions regarding work, such as whether to work or not, their weekly hours worked, their job search activities, and the number of jobs they hold, is critical.”

The retired senator says the evaluation of the pilot should seriously explore how labour market behaviours vary across demographic groups, according to the amount in benefits received, and the rate at which they are taxed back, as income earned in the labour market increases.

— More analysis of the Segal report on Basic Income to come.