On first hearing about introducing a guaranteed basic income, I was skeptical, thinking it could bankrupt the country. That was 30 years ago. Today I believe its time has come and that it could even save billions of dollars in health care and thousands of lives every year.
Between 1974 and 1979, an experiment called "Mincome" was conducted in Dauphin, Man. Residents of this small city near Winnipeg were selected as subjects for a project that ensured basic annual incomes for everyone. Over three years, monthly cheques were delivered to the low-income residents of Dauphin, with no strings attached.
What happened in Manitoba was surprising. Hospital use in the area dropped, including admissions for accidents and mental health problems, according to University of Manitoba researcher Evelyn Forget. Meanwhile, the rate of high school completion increased. Most male breadwinners didn't reduce their work hours due to having the extra cash, though understandably, many single mothers did, so they could have more time for child-rearing, which I believe is a good investment in the future.
Overall, the Mincome recipients were happier, healthier and more motivated to work. Many had more time to pursue their own talents, resulting in companies that created new employment opportunities.
Finland launched a two-year pilot project in January and more than half a dozen other communities around the world are actively pursuing experiments of their own. Ontario is launching a pilot project to see what happens when low-income families receive monthly payments with no strings attached.
Some say unconditional cash injections to low-income individuals could curb the rise of the altright movement, which has been blamed for Brexit, the election of Donald Trump and the newly emboldened white nationalists. It's pretty obvious today that the relentless cycle of poverty creates despair and eventually an internal rage that doesn't take much to ignite.
A basic guaranteed income "could well be the beginning of a seminal change in how modern societies inclusively and economically reduce the negative and broad impact of poverty," said Hugh Segal, former Canadian Conservative senator.
Segal is proposing a model for a minimum payment equivalent to 75 per cent of Ontario's 2016 low-income measure, or $1,416 a month (calculated to be about half the province's median income of $22,653 for an individual). The no-strings-attached payments for adults between 18 and 65 would be non-taxable and participants would be allowed to keep a portion of any additional employment income.
With poverty rates skyrocketing and the gap between the rich and poor growing ever wider, we need to be innovative. In Metro Vancouver, homelessness has become an epidemic and the ever-increasing cost of basic shelter is pulling many middle class families below the poverty line and into despair.
Our current welfare safety net is financially inadequate and unduly punitive. It removes the incentive to find work because any extra income is deducted from the welfare allowance. A guaranteed living income's time has come, and our new provincial NDP government is listening.
ML Burke retired from the health sector to work on issues such as affordable housing. She sits on the Delta Seniors Planning Team and the B.C. Seniors Advocate's Advisory Council.