When the federal government launched the Canada Emergency Benefit (CEP) last year, some wondered if this could lead to a sustainable framework for a national basic income program – a program that would help lift Canadians out of the country. difficulty of poverty.
While this was a temporary program, CERB provided a touchstone for many who wondered if the country could create a living wage during a pandemic, why stop there?
Mini Jacques, a resident of Port Elgin, Ont., Was one of many who contacted Ask CBC to learn about the parties’ position on Basic Income in this election.
“It doesn’t seem like there is a level playing field for basic living,” she said in an interview.
“The government says that for CERB, people get $ 2,000 just for existing and yet… [we] have not had an increase in disability for some time. “
Jacques is blind and relies on the Ontario Disability Support Program for his income. Her rent costs $ 1,022 per month and she receives $ 1,169 from ODSP. That leaves him only $ 147 per month to cover the remaining needs.
She works part-time to supplement these benefits, but if she earns more than $ 200 per month, half of her net income over $ 200 is deducted from her income support.
Her rent is going up and she is concerned that her ODSP checks will not increase at the same rate. She is 61 and so far she says she is coping with the help of her friends and family.
What Jacques wants is for the government to create a basic income program that sets the same standard income for everyone who needs help – whether you are unemployed, disabled, or working but not earning enough to stay. above the poverty line.
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What is basic income?
What sets Basic Income apart from other programs, such as income assistance or social assistance, is that it comes without conditions. In the simplest terms, this is a regular, unconditional payment sent by the government to families and individuals.
In Canada, approximately 3.7 million people live below the poverty line, according to the 2019 Canadian Income Survey. Statistics Canada considers people to live below the poverty line if they do not have an income sufficient to cover the local cost of necessities such as food, clothing, footwear, transportation and shelter.
Today, struggling Canadians can get help through a patchwork of federal, provincial and municipal programs.
Health economist Evelyn Forget, professor in the Department of Health Sciences at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, said Basic Income would replace many of these programs and ideally eliminate much of the confusing bureaucratic red tape. .
Forget, the author of Basic Income for Canadians: From COVID-19 Emergency to Financial Security for All, strongly believes in the benefits of Basic Income.
She explained that there are two types:
Universal Basic Income (RUB) means that everyone in a society, rich or poor, receives a monthly check for the same amount. At the end of the year, the government uses the tax system to balance the scales and get that extra money back from high income people who didn’t need it.
Guaranteed basic income (GBI) is the system most people refer to when they talk about Basic Income in Canada. It is an income dependent system, which means that monthly payments are only made to families and low income individuals.
The ECP program was not, in fact, a basic income, as there were conditions to be eligible: Canadians were only eligible if they had earned at least $ 5,000 in the last year. year.
As the cost of living varies across Canada, there is no single income level that defines poverty. But Forget said that generally speaking, advocates have spoken of setting a guaranteed basic income at around $ 20,000 a year for a single person between the ages of 18 and 64.
Where has it been tested and how well has it worked?
Countries around the world, including Spain, Namibia, Brazil and Iran, have experimented with Basic Income, mainly through pilot projects and trials.
In Canada, Manitoba ran a pilot project called M Income from 1974 to 1978 in the rural community of Dauphin.
The idea was to test whether an unconditional wage would actually help the working poor by supplementing their income, or ultimately deter them from working altogether.
Forget studied the results of this project and found that participants were less likely to be hospitalized and more likely to continue their education.
She said that for the most part, Basic Income did not discourage people from working. One of the groups that worked less were new mothers who, in the 1970s in Manitoba, would only have had a few weeks of parental leave.
The other group who did not have an incentive to work because of Basic Income were young single men. Forget found that the reason these young men, often adolescents, were less likely to work was that Basic Income meant their families could afford to let them continue their education. Instead of dropping out to earn a salary, they were able to graduate from high school.
“The basic idea behind Basic Income, I think, is solid,” she said.
“The hard cash available to people allows them to make choices about their own lives, enables them to make better decisions about how to live their lives and leads to better results.”
More recently, Ontario launched a Basic Income pilot in 2017. Almost 4,000 people were registered and it was supposed to last three years, but was canceled soon after the election of the Progressive Conservative government of Doug Ford . They said the program was too expensive.
A 2021 report by the Parliamentary Budget Officer of Canada found that if the federal government created a national basic income program similar to Ontario’s, it would cost about $ 85 billion in 2021-22 and lower rates. of poverty by almost half.
“It’s expensive, there’s no question about it,” Forget said.
However, she added that much of that cost would be offset by the elimination of programs that Basic Income would replace, which could include income assistance or various refundable tax credits.
“A simplified process is always cheaper. It’s always more efficient,” she said.
What are the disadvantages ?
In 2018, the government of British Columbia commissioned a panel of experts to study the feasibility of a basic income for the province. The resulting report found that “the needs of the people in this society are too diverse to be effectively met with just a check from the government.”
Panel chair David Green, a labor economist and professor at the Vancouver School of Economics at the University of British Columbia, said the best solution is to reform programs that already exist.
“If our problem is really the complex and heterogeneous problem of poverty – how can we create a more just society – then in many cases sending people a check and hoping they will do better is not going to solve the problem. “, he added. said Vert.
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Green said it would be better to tackle the problems head-on, targeting poor working conditions and low wages, reforming the disability assistance program and increasing rent assistance.
Yet others believe Basic Income is the right solution for Canada.
Two of the calls for justice in the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls said Canada should establish a guaranteed income for all.
Where are the main parties at?
Like economists, Canada’s major parties are also divided on basic income, although none are promising. universal basic income. Here is where they stand:
The Green Party:
The platform is committed to establishing a guaranteed livelihood income program.
“The federal government would provide an initial base grant across the country, and an intergovernmental body would determine and administer the additional amounts needed.”
The platform is committed to guaranteeing a basic living income.
“New Democrats will work to expand all income security programs to ensure everyone in Canada has access to a guaranteed basic income.
It would start by lifting the elderly and people with disabilities out of poverty and building on that to establish a basic income for all.
The Liberal Party:
No platform commitment on basic income.
Strong support within the party for a basic income program.
Liberal Davenport MP Julie Dzerowicz tabled a bill calling for a national basic income strategy in 2021. The bill died when parliament was dissolved when an election was called.
The Bloc Québécois:
The People’s Party of Canada:
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