Commentary

Basic Income Cancellation is Both Cruel and Irrational

Premier Ford says the way out of poverty is "something called a job", but 70 percent of Basic Income participants already had jobs and were still living in poverty.

By Tom Cooper
Published October 29, 2018

Ontario Premier Doug Ford was in Thunder Bay last week. T-Bay, like Hamilton, Brantford and Lindsay, have been sites for the Ontario Basic Income pilot project and local participants have been reeling from the late summer announcement that the Conservative government would break their election promise and cut short the three-year research project.

The program was intended to test the idea that providing a stable financial foundation for people on low incomes could stabilize housing, improve health and enhance social participation in society. 

There's been sustained push-back across the country and even internationally on behalf of participants; There have been outcries from the pilot city mayors, from international researchers, from one hundred CEOs of large corporations, from 800 medical professionals, and of course from the pilot participants themselves, through an amazing initiative called Humans of Basic Income, led by photographer and local Hamilton pilot participant Jessie Golem.

Many pilot participants made plans to go back to school, upgrade skills, entered year-long tenancy agreements even joined fitness programs to get healthy. 

So it was no surprise the Premier was greeted by protests in Thunder Bay from local participants, feeling betrayed and fearful about their future.

His response to the local CBC? "Something called a job is the way out of poverty, not a basic income," said the Premier.  He further indicated that Basic Income was too expensive, conflating the $150 million price tag of the research project with a more universal program that could be rolled out across the province. 

In a short speech, Premier Pants-On-Fire had a number of whoppers. Let's break them down with some facts:

Basic Income Participants DO Have Jobs

The previous provincial government wanted to test how a basic income could work as a financial support or supplement to precarious employment. As such, when they enrolled 4,000 pilot participants (enrollment ended in April), 70 percent were earning money through paid employment. Workers on BI are allowed to keep 50 percent of their earned income up to a certain amount.

If the Conservatives had done any due diligence when they got into office and reviewed baseline data from those who enrolled in the pilot, they would know the majority of participants are working. Most pilot participants are working precarious hours though, and not earning enough at their jobs to pull themselves or their families out of poverty. For them, BI is a critical supplement to low-wage work!

Basic Income is an Investment in Cost-Savings

Yet again in Thunder Bay, the Premier conflated running a research project with the cost of a universal basic income program. The pilot project cost $150 million over three years, half of which has likely already been spent (and will be lost).

Yes, a universal program may indeed cost $17 billion (the Federal Parliamentary Budget Officer did some calculations earlier this year on a national scale). However, BI could also save billions to Ontario taxpayers in social assistance programs ($11 billion currently), health care costs, and fewer homelessness programs.

Plus, the provincial government is also throwing away $3 billion in the canceled carbon pricing system. BI could pay for itself through different policy choices. New Orleans-based basic income writer, Scott Santens, has an excellent perspective on this - partial basic income through universal carbon dividends.

Jobs do Not Solve Poverty by Themselves

If a job is a way out of poverty, why are 1.7 million Ontarians who work still living in poverty, Mr. Premier?  

Maybe Doug and his team should read McMaster's Jeffrey Martin and Wayne Lewchuk's recent report on the Generation Effect [PDF] to see just how challenging finding stable work is for millennials (at least those who don't inherit sticker factories). 

And on top of everything else, the recent cancellation of many provisions of Bill 148 and freezing the minimum wage at $14 an hour will only acerbate the challenges faced by low-income workers - a bizarre and ironic twist on the incomprehensible policies this new government has already adopted.

Tom Cooper is the Director of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted October 31, 2018 at 07:48:05

Bad policy choices have been made that will hurt the poor; for my own part, I'm even surprised that worse has not yet been done. All that's been done is to clear the modest firebreaks that the last government began to cut.

The fire is coming.

Craig Burley

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