Healing Gaia

2019 Wish List: Reinstate the Basic Income Pilot

With precarious employment the norm these days, social safety nets like BI provide the financial stability parents need to plan for the future and to raise their children out of poverty.

By Doreen Nicoll
Published December 31, 2018

Time for my annual year-end wish list. It's been a tougher year than usual for those of us living in Ontario so my list is much longer, but I'm choosing to focus on one aspect of government funding that could make a real difference to raising children in Ontario out of poverty and providing women living with and leaving intimate partner abuse a real hand-up.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Canadian Prime Minister Justine Trudeau, reinstate the Basic Income Pilot. It's inconsequential whether the provincial or federal government takes the initiative - quite simply, it needs to be done.

Professor Evelyn Forget, the consummate expert on Basic Income (BI), heard the urban legend about the 1970s Mincom Pilot Project - what we now call BI. Launched by the NDP Manitoba government in conjunction with Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau's Federal Liberals, the plan was to reduce poverty among the poorest and most marginalized people in Canada.

Truth be told, the project was a resounding success until the combination of provincial and federal conservative governments that assumed power subverted the findings and prevented them from being published.

Thirty years later, Forget, an economist in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the University of Manitoba, discovered the 1,800+ boxes of information. That's when she began writing about the successful of this project.

The purpose of the Mincome pilot was to explore whether those receiving a financial hand-up would take advantage of the system to work less or not at all. The research overwhelmingly proved that participants did not work less.

Women used Mincome to extend short maternity leaves, but eventually returned to the workforce when their kids reached school age. Male youth stayed in high school longer because they weren't expected to help support their low-income families. Many of these young men were able to go on to college, secure better jobs, and pay higher taxes back to their community, province, and the country.

Hospitalization rates declined thanks to fewer industrial accidents and injuries as well as fewer mental health issues. Family doctors were visited less often and there was a reduction in the number of people complaining of depression and anxiety.

Basic Income was originally based on Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement, which give people over 65 years of age a guaranteed income. The Canada Child Benefit is another form of BI offered to families with children under 18 years of age. Payments depend on family income and the results have consistently supported improved maternal as well as child health and educational outcomes.

The cost of the Ontario BI model would cost about $30 billion a year. Costs could be recovered by eliminating Ontario Disability Support Programs (ODSP) and Ontario Works Programs (OW) and by adjusting tax incentives granted to high-income earning Canadians.

With basic Income set at $17,000, most Canadians would not immediately stop working because their lifestyles necessitate much larger incomes. However, employers relying on unskilled workers may have a more difficult time finding employees willing to work for working poor wages or under dangerous working conditions. Women returning to minimum-wage jobs would find they have their choice of jobs after a maternity or care-giver leave.

Employees would hopefully no longer need to work two and three jobs just to make ends meet. Some BI recipients will be able to go back to school. Still others will finally have the money to meet friends for coffee or buy their children a hot chocolate after skating. All of these are good outcomes.

Ideally, BI recipients will continue to receive Ontario Health Insurance Program (OHIP) as well as expanded universal prescription and dental programs.

With precarious employment the norm these days, social safety nets like BI provide the financial stability parents need to plan for the future and to raise their children out of poverty. Regardless of their employment status, BI gives women living with abuse the financial means to leave and not return.

2019 is a new year full of hope and promise. It's time to share those gifts by implementing a BI.

For more on Basic Income, see Humans of Basic Income.

Doreen Nicoll is a feminist and a member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence.


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