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Basic income: how we can eliminate poverty


It is time to stop accepting poverty and inequality, and by extension condoning it.

It is time to give dignity to those of working age who choose between heat and food, to those who have no hope of getting ahead and whose children will frequently follow in their footsteps because poverty traps, poverty is cyclical.

It is time to introduce a basic income. One version works like this. If the income filed on your tax return falls below the level necessary to meet basic needs, say the Statistics Canada low-income cut off, you would get a government-funded top-up to meet those needs.

Despair would be replaced with hope. And hope will always lead to dignity.

It has support from politicians of all stripes. Retired Conservative senator Hugh Segal favors it, as does the Green Party and the NDP of Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island.

Last year delegates to the Liberal party’s national convention voted for it in two separate resolutions, although Justin Trudeau never included it in his campaign platform. St. John’s Mayor Dennis O’Keefe is among municipal leaders who is a strong proponent.

The Canadian Medical Association endorse it, for poverty leads to hunger and bad nutrition. Both kill and they are very costly killers.

Critics dismiss basic income as too expensive to implement. Rob Rainer and Kelly Ernst of the Basic Income Canada Network disagree. Writing in the Toronto Star Feb. 27, 2014, they claimed national implementation could cost around $32 billion — much cheaper than the $72 billion to $86 billion which “a 2008 study estimated as the price Canadians pay for health care, criminal justice and lost productivity costs associated with poverty. Poverty’s demand on health care alone may now approach $40 billion per year.”

These are shocking figures and yet we allow the system that produces them to continue.

Perhaps government is afraid people will lose their incentive to work. That doesn’t appear likely. A pilot project in Dauphin, Manitoba, commonly known as Mincome ran for five years in the 1970’s and residents never lost their work ethic. Professor Evelyn Forget, a health economist at the University of Manitoba, found in her re-examination of Mincome that more children completed high school and the health of the community also improved. Hospitalizations, mainly for mental illness, accidents and injuries were reduced by 8.5 per cent. The pilot ended in 1979 when funding stopped.

It is an initiative not without its challenges. It will mean eliminating social programs like income support and combining others. But it will save money in the long run and it will enable everyone to enjoy shelter, heat, nutritious food and clothes that suit the weather.

Unfortunately, neither provincial party has given it enough thought to make it part of their election manifestos. Clyde Jackman, minister responsible for the poverty reduction strategy, said in an emailed statement that discussion of basic income is “premature” because of the new government in Ottawa and the upcoming election. It’s a hollow argument, for no such discussion was “premature” for all the years Jackman’s party was in power. Yet, it never happened.

Curiously, Opposition critic Rex Hillier never responded to requests for an interview or a statement. Given the results of a recent poll, it is his party that may have to deal with it.

NDP Leader Earle McCurdy describes it as “a great goal” and one he would be willing to discuss in the future, but at present his party has neither thoroughly researched it nor done a cost-benefit analysis.

“An ideal time to have really done some leg work on it would have been during the prosperous years when we had a healthy balance sheet to be able to make the upfront investment that would have had the reasonable prospect of paying off in the long run,” he said in a recent telephone interview.

Basic income is a concept whose time has come or you may say long overdue. It will give dignity to the sick, the disabled and all those who have very little cushion against economic hardship.

And it provides the best incentive of all to raise wages and improve working conditions. It gives people the economic freedom to leave. No employer, however bad, can afford a revolving door. The economic costs are too high and the cost in negative publicity is even higher. No one trying to turn a profit wants that.

 

Pat Cullen is a journalist and community volunteer who lives in Carbonear.

She can be reached at 596-1505 or cullen.pat1@gmail.com.

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