Second wave tsunami: No basic income for people who need it most

By Sheila Regehr

The Speech from the Throne began with the message that ‘this is not the time for austerity’ and talked about ‘fighting for every Canadian’. The content is far more status quo than bold or transformative, however, and doesn’t match the rhetoric. Canadians from all sectors and walks of life are calling for a basic income to give everyone a fighting chance but it was glaringly absent. 

People who have already been living austerely, those who were most vulnerable in the first wave of the pandemic are even more anxious now. Our leaders seem out of touch with this ‘unprecedented’ reality and out of time with a resurgent deadly virus hitting us as Canadian winter is approaching. 

Austerity is the fate of people who may lose CERB and other benefits, or didn’t qualify in the first place. They are losing housing, health, the ability to buy food, and hope. These people, as always, are predominantly female, Black, Indigenous and other people of colour, people with disabilities and single people with no one to fall back on. Some of them used to be middle-class and our income security systems failed them. Others have known disadvantage throughout their lives. These are people who can’t protect themselves from COVID-19’s impact the way others can. That is a public health, human rights and economic disaster.

Even a vastly improved Employment Insurance system will still leave people behind. Opportunities offered by plans for pharmacare, childcare and employment creation are welcomed but they are much too far away to matter in this wave. They could and should have been done decades ago. Leaving people with inadequate income support now will mean more pain and costly consequences down the road.  

Extending a form of seniors’ basic income to people with disabilities is a welcome move for those who may qualify. But it further entrenches a flawed income security system based on a discriminatory framework of deservedness. It’s why a basic income is called for by the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry and Black Lives Matter. The measures in the Throne Speech will barely put a dent in historical, systemic inequality. 

Only a basic income and an end to poverty and crippling insecurity and fear is going to do that. It is a prerequisite to making other challenges manageable, including slowing the spread of COVID, reducing social unrest, transitioning to a greener economy, and rebuilding better. 

We have asked too much for far too long of people on the bottom half of the income ladder whose underpaid and unpaid work sustains us, too little of the fortunate who have more security and privilege, and not nearly enough of the pathologically wealthy and powerful.  

The signs of hope I see are in a growing people’s movement for a basic income. We will keep up the struggle until leaders listen and truly act for all of us. 

Everyone needs enough money to meet basic needs, period. Everyone. 

 

Sheila Regehr

Chairperson, Basic Income Canada Network