CERB is an unintended basic income

Globe and Mail

Last month, at remarkable speed, national politicians from all parties set aside their usual partisan dynamics to introduce the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) in response to the coronavirus-generated economic crisis. The federal government, Parliament and officials involved deserve great credit, and while the CERB currently does not provide benefits to all Canadians, the program is still evolving.

COVID-19 has forced federal and provincial governments to see the limitations of our current income-security framework. Employment insurance (EI) has been revealed as a creaky relic of a bygone economy. 

Forty per cent of unemployed Canadians are ineligible for EI. Today’s freelance and gig workers, who piece together part-time jobs and short-term contracts, were the first to feel the effects of the shutdown, unable to qualify for EI or receiving too little to survive. The CERB is both more inclusive and generous.

Provincial welfare and disability supports are punitive, stigmatizing and offer less than half the income needed to stay above the poverty line. Adult supports are expensive, unwieldy and ineffective – a disorganized patchwork that condemns people to poverty, rather than offering them a hand up.

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