By Roderick Benns
The Basic Income Canada Network (BICN) has recently made its submission to the House of Commons Finance Committee pre-budget consultations, urging creation of a basic income that would be universally available to Canadians in times of need.
BICN Chair Sheila Regehr writes in her executive summary that this is “an important time to build on basic income initiatives underway in Quebec and Ontario” and on recent federal initiatives to strengthen other forms of basic income. This includes the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) for seniors and the Canada Child Benefit (CCB) aimed at families with children, both of which have proven effective in reducing poverty. (Retired Senator Hugh Segal is providing advice on design and implementation of a demonstration pilot in Ontario, and Quebec is currently looking into a form of basic income.)
In her summary, Regehr points out that income security for working-age adults “is very weak, some of it is outright harmful, and the resulting stress, poverty, ill health and other costly problems undermine the wellbeing of Canada’s society and economy.”
“The labour market is not providing everyone enough to get by,” she further writes, with more and more precarious jobs with poor pay and few benefits or protections. An expanded system of basic income is what is needed, according to BICN, “and the greater use of refundable credits is an important vehicle to do so.”
In her submission, Regehr notes that the Canada Child Benefit is an excellent example of a limited basic income (using a negative income tax model), because the money comes with no strings attached for families. There are some prevailing stereotypes about what happens when adults are simply given money, she writes, such as that “people won’t work unless they are forced by rules or deprivation,” that “taxing people’s income makes them reduce their work effort,” and that people in poverty “are more likely than those who are better off to make poor decisions.”
Yet it is the reverse that happens, the BICN submission notes.
“...people do better when they can meet basic needs, control their money and make their own decisions. Nutrition and learning improve, stress, alcohol consumption and violence decrease, and people are better able to find and create economic opportunities.”
The BICN submission also points to a basic income as a “kind of infrastructure for individuals and families.” It would allow them to “be healthier and more productive in many aspects of their lives, whether that is parenting and caring, learning and developing skills, managing an illness, weathering a setback, working for someone else or creating something new.”
In addition to contributing to social cohesion and community health, Regehr writes that a basic income also “supports the innovation agenda by enabling individuals to develop their own creative and entrepreneurial ideas.”
BICN urges the federal government in the 2017 Budget to:
1) Take immediate steps in the direction of a basic income for working-age adults using federal refundable tax credits and other means compatible with the model of benefits for seniors and children;
2) Undertake a thorough review and exploration of ways, in the context of fair and effective taxation as well as poverty reduction strategies, to fully realize a basic income for everyone;
3) Cooperate with and support basic income initiatives of other orders of government, including by fostering public dialogue, consultation, analysis and policy development as this is in the interest of all Canadians.
To read the full, 4-page submission, click here.