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Basic Income in Canada: What We’ve Learned So Far

Posted on August 5, 2020
By Natasha Pei

Basic Income Canada Network (BCIN) defines Basic Income as:

“A Basic Income Guarantee ensures that everyone has an income sufficient to meet basic needs and live with dignity, regardless of work status”

From July 2019 to August 2020, Tamarack Institute’s Vibrant Communities – Cities Reducing Poverty co-hosted a series of webinars with the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction exploring Basic Income (BI) in Canada. As one of three sites for Ontario’s 2018-2019 BI pilots, the Roundtable undertook in-depth research and consultations on BI, supported participants to join the pilot, learned along with them, and are now sharing their knowledge with the network through this webinar series.

This blog summarizes some of our key learning about Basic Income so far.

Basic Income

Basic Income is not a new concept in Canada. Administered through our tax system, we already have forms of BI that have been successful in targeting and reducing poverty for seniors (Guaranteed Annual Income, Old Age Security) and families with children (Canada Child Benefit). The new debates about BI are about expanding eligibility and increasing the floor.

Basic Income is not a panacea and would be complementary to, not a replacement of, other programs. Income alone won’t solve systemic inequalities (e.g. sexism, racism) or create more affordable housing and childcare spaces. These initiatives need to continue, but the money from BI could provide individuals and families with a foundational floor to have economic independence and choice to improve their lives in ways they know they need to.

The benefits of Basic Income have been demonstrated repeatedly as a result of several different BI pilots – including Dauphin, Manitoba in 1976; and Hamilton, Lindsay, and Thunder Bay, Ontario from 2018-2019. Participants saw improvements to health and wellbeing and employment/education. These findings debunked the myth that people would stop working. BI has shown particularly positive effects for women, youth, and people going through transitions in life. Basic Income allows more choice for:

  • Women finding housing to flee domestic violence

  • Workers (particularly young people) navigating an increasingly precarious/gig and automated job market to go back to school and/or find better employment

  • Being productive in ways that are meaningful to individuals (e.g. volunteerism, spirituality, art, caregiving, etc.)

  • Reducing stress and reliance on coping mechanisms (smoking, alcohol) and improving mental health

  • Parents taking paternity leave to raise healthy babies

  • And more

BCIN has proven that there are feasible ways of funding Basic Income in Canada that could reduce poverty to 5 percent. A recent report, Basic Income: Some Policy Options for Canada, recommends rearranging some existing tax credits and programs and complement what’s working well. Three scenarios have been costed and detailed:

  • Income-tested Basic Income without seniors’ benefits

  • Income-tested Basic Income with seniors’ benefits

  • Basic Income universal demo-grant

Of these three scenarios, the income-tested models benefit single individuals – the demographic falling furthest behind – more than the universal demo-grant. BI panelists also tended to believe that there is more political appetite for an income-tested model than a universal demo-grant.

What is important to remember, in any scenario, is that Basic Income is an investment. Many conservatives and naysayers cringe at the initial bill and fail to consider the savings to the social system and return on investment (e.g. in savings to hospitals, to the justice system, etc.).

And in contrast to Social Assistance, which is highly policed and controlled by administrators, BI is a dignified program that gives the freedom and flexibility for individuals to spend their time and money in meaningful ways.

Over just a few months, beginning in March 2020, COVID-19 launched the movement years ahead. Though we are still waiting to see a true national BI (Canada, UK, US, Finland, Spain and Brazil have all implemented quasi-basic income programs), it has raised a serious discussion in government and amongst the public about the feasibility of BI and has created support on both sides of the political spectrum.

But municipal and provincial/territorial governments need not wait for the federal government to implement a BI program. Local governments should take the lead on providing a BI, demonstrate results, and build the national case for BI so that the federal government develops the political will to pick it up (such as how universal health care started in Saskatchewan).

What aspect(s) of the BI still challenge you the most? Or, which questions do you find hardest to answer or refute? Leave your questions and comments in the comments box below to contribute to the conversation.

Join the next Basic Income conversation on Basic Income: The Business Perspective on August 18, 2020. Learn more and register here.

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Topics:
Natasha Pei, Cities Reducing Poverty, Basic Income


Natasha Pei

By Natasha Pei

Natasha Pei brings online content to life and engages our members in the Vibrant Communities learning centre for poverty reduction. Natasha's involvement with Tamarack began with the Communities First: Impacts of Community Engagement (CFICE) project, where she worked as a Research Assistant in the Poverty Reduction Hub, studying effective ways community-campus engagement can be undertaken to have real benefits for the community.

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