BICN launches COVID-19 stories report, showing urgent need for basic income

The Basic Income Canada Network (BICN) today released a COVID-19 Stories Report, highlighting individual and family experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government response benefits, and the impact on their health and economic wellbeing. These experiences make a strong case for transitioning emergency measures into a basic income going forward.

The 141 stories reflect the diversity of people across the country living in a wide range of situations. They also reflect generosity and concern for others—the best of Canada. People able to receive the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) express gratitude to the federal government for its rapid response, and for the $2000 per month amount of the benefit to enable basic needs to be met.

However, these CERB recipients worry about the future when emergency help ends, COVID-19 is still with us, and the economy is still fragile. They also think withdrawing CERB from people earning over $1000 is a problem that could be fixed with a basic income design that better supports employment. As one CERB recipient describes it, a basic income could help him and “help build the economy.”

“It is not easy to reveal difficult aspects of one’s life,” notes Sheila Regehr, chair of BICN. “The issues that come out in the 141 stories—of deteriorating financial, physical, and mental health—are distressing and at times hard to read. BICN is very grateful to those who shared their own story in the hope that it will help the many others in Canada who are in situations like their own—or worse.” As one respondent explained:

The working poor, like myself, drain whatever meagre savings we have put aside,
and with every week we become more anxious and worried, even terrified, that we
could become homeless.”

The gravest concern expressed was for people who are excluded from CERB support. The pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities and insecurities, disproportionately affecting people already disadvantaged. This includes people such as unpaid caregivers, precarious workers, those who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour, women in abusive relationships, people with physical and mental health challenges, and others. The government should be supporting them more, not less.

The stories reflect how troubling and unfair it is that some people must try to survive on less than the CERB amount, especially those on social assistance who for too long have been expected to live far below the poverty line. This is even harder now that COVID-19 has put more demands on them and disrupted access to food, transportation, and services. As a long-time volunteer aptly put it, “We are not truly 'all in this together' unless we are ALL getting help."

“Federal government leaders have a responsibility to take the best of emergency measures, fill the gaps and transition to a more permanent basic income guarantee that ensures everyone is able to meet basic needs and live with dignity,” urges Regehr.

“How government chooses to act now will shape our health, our prosperity,
and our future as a nation.”

BICN’S Policy Options report, released in January 2020, provides detailed modelling of three basic income options to aid policy-makers, the first of which has been recommended to Parliament to respond to Canada’s current context.

BICN gathered the COVID-19 stories between April 3 and May 3, 2020 as CERB and other measures were being rolled out, gaps were appearing, and interest in basic income was growing rapidly. BICN was being asked, including by politicians, how individual lives and livelihoods were being affected. The stories came through BICN’s wide national base of people who have an understanding of basic income issues.

To view BICN’s COVID-19 Stories Report, click here.

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