About Basic Income
A basic income guarantee (BIG) ensures everyone an income sufficient to meet basic needs and live with dignity, regardless of work status.
A basic income that is guaranteed, regardless of work status, has many benefits – it helps individuals and families deal with insecurity and setbacks, it prevents poverty and it’s good for the economy. We have a basic income for seniors and children – now it’s time for the rest of us.
Basic income is affordable. Compared to the high price we all pay for the insecurity and hardship that prevent people from being healthy and economically active, it is a bargain.
A basic income encourages work. With a basis of stability, adults are better able to work, plan and manage their own unique circumstances. Our current income floor via welfare is riddled with rules and work disincentives, making it almost impossible to get ahead.
We can do it in Canada. We have our jurisdictional challenges but we brought in universal public health care (Medicare), the advent of which changed Canadians’ lives profoundly: quality medical care provided on the basis of our health, not our bank accounts, makes Canada a more equal, affordable and healthy place to live. We reversed the path of aging that used to lead to destitution for most seniors. We found ways to give children a better start in life. We have the ability – we need the will.
A basic income guarantee for all could be Canada’s next great public policy legacy. Like health care, it should be there for when you need it. The challenge now for Canadians is to put basic income back on the public agenda, expand our vision, and use wisdom to create a basic income guarantee for all.
Basic income in Canada’s history
A form of basic income was established in 1967 with income guarantees for seniors. Shortly afterwards, in 1971, the idea of a wider basic or guaranteed annual income was the key recommendation in a Senate report on poverty (the “Croll report”). Also in the 1970s, both Canada and the United States ran extensive pilot programs, including a unique site in Dauphin, Manitoba. A Senate Committee in 2009, noting growing inequality and persistent poverty in Canada, said it was time to put a guaranteed income back on the public agenda.
Basic income in Canada today
Currently, the most significant income guarantees are provided for seniors and children. Old Age Security is provided as a “demogrant”, meaning that almost all adults on reaching 65 can receive it. It is an amount of money provided regularly to individual seniors, regardless of family status, past or present work status or other income. In addition, the Guaranteed Income Supplement is provided to seniors with low income using a “negative income tax model” of basic income: the lower one’s income the greater one’s benefit. Children’s benefits share similarities. Income guarantees for seniors and children work in tandem with public services, such as education and health care, to provide a better quality of life than any of us could afford on our own.
Basic income is not welfare
For working-age Canadians, overall there is little security in the event of job loss, disability, divorce, prolonged illness and treatment, maternity, economic recession and other life events. For those in this age range, Canada’s “last resort” income floor is provided by welfare (“social assistance” programs by various names) and it is very unlike a basic income concept. There is no universality, for there are different income floors for different categories of people in different parts of the country. There are many complex rules and conditions that do not apply to other citizens, often discouraging work effort and causing stress and poor health. In many cases welfare provides an income nowhere near to meeting basic needs. It is a throwback to an earlier time that is not suitable to life in a modern, affluent democracy.
Basic income: an idea for which the time has come
The advent of universal public health care changed Canadians’ lives profoundly: quality medical care provided on the basis of our health, not our bank accounts, makes Canada a more equal, affordable and healthy place to live. Forms of a basic income in Canada have also changed lives profoundly for the better, but only for some. Like health care, having income to meet basic needs is essential for everyone. The challenge now for Canadians is to put basic income back on the public agenda, expand our vision, and use wisdom to create a basic income guarantee for all. It could be Canada’s next great public policy legacy.