Basic income pilot: Mental health, resilience will surely improve

Roderick Benns

Basic income open enrollment sessions begin this week here in Lindsay, as well in Hamilton and Thunder Bay. If you haven’t registered and you think you might be ‘working poor’ or on Ontario Works, you should check out the simplified process.

The basic income pilot is an incredible opportunity. It not only has the capacity to change individual lives, but to create community-level change, too, especially in Lindsay where half the pilot participants live.

In order to participate in the pilot, individuals must be:

  • 18 to 64 years old (for the entire duration of the three-year study)
  • living in one of the selected test regions (like Lindsay) for the past 12 months or longer (and still live there)
  • living on a low income (under $34,000 per year if you’re single or under $48,000 per year if you’re a couple)

Creating an online news magazine focused mainly on the social and economic wellness of the town is a constant weighing of priorities.

For instance, we wondered whether to run the Kawartha Lakes Police news that regularly comes in, which inevitably is about people who are committing crimes.

We decided to do so, but only in the ‘briefs’ section so as not to emphasize them. As well, these police briefs are constant reminders for us why we need a basic income policy, not only in Lindsay (and not only for three years), but across Canada.

Kawartha Lakes Police Chief John Hagarty knows this. He has spoken often about his support for basic income – a way to bring back those who have been marginalized by poverty.

Lindsay is a community in need – and I recognize it’s not the only one. The town’s industrial base is not what it once was. The vast majority of jobs that are available are precarious – part-time, contract, or temporary, and usually without benefits.

That’s all thanks to globalization and the greedy reach of a flawed capitalistic system that has overreached and overplayed its hand. In its wake is an economic system that is increasingly producing haves and have-nots.

Many politicians will tell you the ‘free market’ can cure all, if government would just ‘stay out of the way.’ They’re either 

lying or misinformed themselves. The market doesn’t exist without rules and a structure. Those rules are made by policy makers — our governments. We can demand fairer rules so that corporations pay their fair share.

Wal-Mart is a good example of this excess – the very store too many people in Lindsay are desperate to have set up shop here. The Walton family that owns and controls Wal-Mart have more wealth than the bottom 40 per cent of the American people.

You might want to re-read that and think on how perverse it is. I’ll do without Wal-Mart, thank you very much, even if it’s a little harder to get everything under one roof.

So, in our skewed system that increasingly favours the wealthy, with jobs that no longer support families but do very well at supporting empires, is it any wonder mental health challenges have increased? Is it any wonder that anxiety is more pervasive?

One of the most worthy reasons for a basic income policy is the fact that it will lead to improved resilience and mental health outcomes. Recent research has shown that a lack of basic-level security reduces short-term intelligence.

As economist Guy Standing writes in Basic Income: And How We Can Make it Happen, “when people lack, or fear they will lack, something as essential as money or food…they become worse at problem-solving and make worse decisions.”

It stands to reason then that chronically insecure people are bound to make poorer decisions for themselves and their families. The very condition of not having enough can lead to even more scarcity.

Standing also points out that in a study of children in Cherokee tribal families who received regular payments from the reservation’s casino earnings, the children and youth “did better at school and were less likely to drift into crime.”

Seeing less of those police news items coming across our desks would be welcome indeed.

The Worry of Poverty

We are increasingly throwing a great deal of money at mental health supports. Is this really the first approach we should take? What if, instead, we took the worry of poverty away from people?

What if we finally realized that people aren’t poor because they lack a certain program – they’re poor because they lack sufficient income.

My belief is that over the next three years we will prove, right here in Lindsay, that a basic income will raise people up, reduce anxiety, and improve mental health.

Basic income isn’t the answer to everything, but we need to embrace it here in Lindsay and fight for it across Canada.

There is so much more to do to create the kind of country we want and have the power to shape. Basic income, I submit, should be just the beginning.

-- This article originally ran in The Lindsay Advocate.