Hamilton mayor bets basic income a good foil against unstable economic times

Roderick Benns

The mayor of Hamilton, Fred Eisenberger, says his gut tells him basic income is “the wise thing to do” for an employment landscape that is rapidly changing.

Eisenberger told Case for Basic Income that he would like to think that all political parties, both provincial and federal, understand the need to do something different to guard against sweeping economic change.

“It’s about the changing employment environment and any self-respecting government should recognize that,” he says, pointing out he hopes if there is a government change in Ontario that the pilot would be allowed to continue.

“Even the federal government is at least talking about this,” he says.

Eisenberger says his gut is telling him that basic income “is a wise thing to do.”

“The evidence needs to be demonstrated,” he says, and he is happy that St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and Hamilton’s own McMaster University are involved in sorting through the evidence as it comes in.

“I’m delighted they picked a smaller community, like Lindsay, and a larger area like Hamilton,” in addition to the more northern Thunder Bay to get a good provincial representation, says the mayor.

“This can only be helpful because the need is out there.”

Eisenberger says that given the ravages of precarious employment, a basic guaranteed income is a step in the right direction.

“I’m willing to bet the evidence will show many more positive things and fewer negative,” he says.

From the last public count, about 400 people are now signed up in Hamilton, Brantford, and Brant County — about 40 per cent of where the government wants to be. He says there was some early confusion in the broader community on eligibility. Now, though, people can “engage with the government themselves,” rather than waiting for an invitation to apply, which should help bolster those numbers.

People in the pilot could receive up to $16,989 per year for a single person and up to $24,027 per year for a couple, less 50 per cent of any earned income. People with a disability would receive up to an additional $500 per month.

The rules to qualify are simple and straightforward. Anyone who receives a package in the mail (or another person living in their household) can apply if they are 18 to 64 years old, living in one of the pilot areas 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).

Contributing Members of Society

Eisenberger has heard the fears that people won’t want to work if they get a basic income, but he doesn’t buy it.

“There’s a small percentage where that’s probably true, but I think most people want to be contributing members of society – they want to be successful in however they want to define that,” he says.

The mayor believes people on social assistance, or the so-called working poor, are “eager and ambitious” and yet “not everyone gets the same opportunity.”

The mayor says as a society we shouldn’t be guided by the few who take advantage of the system but by the great number of needs we have to address. Most people don’t want to be on assistance, he says, and want to improve their chances in life.

Eisenberger also mentions the rise of automation and artificial intelligence, factors that are eliminating jobs on a grand scale across developed nations such as Canada.

“How are we prepared to deal with that? In my view, everyone deserves a decent standard of living,” and basic income might be that answer.”

He says it doesn’t take much to lose a job these days, given the changing nature of work, and it’s putting people in precarious positions.

“Basic income is not just for those on social assistance. Anyone can face a lingering affliction so that their health status could change and cause them to lose their work. It could happen to any one of us.”

Ontario’s Basic Income Pilot will be the largest study of its kind in North America with 4,000 participants at full enrollment.

For further information about signing up for basic income call 1-844-217-4516.