Critique of basic income program unfounded

Letter to Editor

Gregory Mason notes that recruiting participants was challenging and suggests it would have been impossible to obtain quality data without actions just short of harassment. I am a member of the evaluation team based at St. Michael’s Hospital and McMaster University that replaced Mason’s firm as the third-party evaluator in September 2017. Mason’s claims about the feasibility of participant recruitment and data collection presume a knowledge he couldn’t possibly have — he was only with the project for less than 10 per cent of the recruitment — and is contrary to our experience in numerous other studies.

When we inherited the project, only a few hundred participants had been recruited after at least three months of effort, according to public information. From October to April, while we were leading the evaluation, ministry staff and our team were able to recruit 5,600 participants to reach the target of 6,000.

While we certainly encountered challenges, we used methods to engage, recruit and retain potential participants that our team members have developed in studies of similar populations. We were able to use a mix of paper-, tablet-, online- and telephone-based questionnaires based on participants’ needs, and only a small minority used paper surveys. We have conducted many studies with similar populations over the last decade and have been successful in retaining participants with similar profiles to the basic income pilot participants (e.g., applicants for subsidized housing) with retention rates commonly in excess of 80 per cent.

At no point did we employ "open" recruitment methods, as Mason claims. Potential recruits were assessed according to established inclusion and exclusion criteria and, if accepted, randomized into either the treatment group that received a basic income or the control group that did not. Subsequent statistical tests on the sample recruited ensured that they were representative of the population under study.

So, in short, just because Mason found data collection challenging and forecasted it would fail, his claim is contrary to our experience. If the experiment were not cancelled, we are confident that the resulting data would have been a useful basis on which to assess the feasibility of a basic income policy.

Evelyn L. Forget, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg

This letter was originally posted in the Winnipeg Free Press.