Basic Income Canada Network’s Karen Dempsey wants the federal government to provide $2,000 of basic income per month.
Dempsey defines a guaranteed livable income as “an unconditional cash transfer from government to individuals to enable everyone to meet their basic needs, participate in society, and live with dignity, regardless of work status.”
Dempsey and others spoke on a webinar on how to implement a guaranteed liveable income on June 15. The webinar was organized by the Fredericton South Green Party Association.
“It’s been a political football for a long time with various governments playing around with it, interfering with its ability to support people who could benefit from it,” said David Coon, leader of the Green Party in New Brunswick and Member of the Legislative Assembly for Fredericton South.
Dempsey sees five reasons why we need a basic income: social justice, loss of jobs due to technology, inequality, the precarious job market, and, lastly, she believes it’s the right thing to do.
Photographer, writer and project creator of Humans of Basic income Jessie Golem also spoke on the webinar.
Golem began her discussion by telling her own story with basic income, how it had improved her life and the life of many others before Ontario Premier Doug Ford broke his election promise to continue the basic income program, not even a month after he was elected.
Golem then began her project Humans of Basic Income, where she photographed people holding cardboard signs telling their personal stories and experiences with basic income. The project currently consists of 70 photo-stories.
“I want Doug Ford to know these people,” said Golem. “In Canada, poverty costs our country around 70-80 billion dollars per year. I would rather that money be invested in society instead of hospital beds and jail cells.”
Janice Harvey, a professor at St. Thomas University, contributed to the discussion by explaining two views of basic income, regressive and progressive.
Harvey describes the regressive view as basic income being “a vehicle by which we can shrink government. That government can be removed from the lives of people and of communities, cease any kind of role and social support or social engagement as a government.”
“This is a neoliberal view. The idea is that if governments assume responsibility for a basic level of financial support for people, then other types of social supports can be eliminated. The motivation behind this as an efficiency motivation and maximizing individual liberty with ‘less government involvement,’” added Harvey.
According to Harvey, a progressive basic income would not minimize government. “The motivation would be social inclusion, reduced inequality etc. We would be looking at essentially re-distributing wealth across the economy. The outcome would be improved lives for individuals but also improved communities and society broadly,” said Harvey.
MeiLing McVicar is a St. Thomas University social work student doing a placement at the Green Party office on guaranteed livable income. According to McVicar, “A basic income would really create a safety net for a future pandemic, or if an environmental disaster were to occur, it wouldn’t have such a big impact on the economy. I think when we look at guaranteed livable income or income plans, they are a lot more sustainable in that sense too. This idea is closely tied to the Green New Deal, which is about sustainable economics and sustainable living.”
Emma Morrison, another social work student working with McVicar as well as Sarah-Kate MacKinnon on a guaranteed liveable income, compared New Brunswick’s monthly social assistance rate to the amount provided by the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit as a way to show that the current social assistance rates are inadequate in helping people meet their basic needs.
“New Brunswick’s monthly social assistance rate for a single person is $563.85. The monthly Canadian Emergency Response Benefit is $2,000. When you look at the market basket measure, which is the official poverty line, the amount that you need to live and meet your needs in New Brunswick is a minimum $1,612 a month for a single person,” said Morrison.
According to Morrison, “Many people are only receiving the minimum amount to live on and they’re only able to earn an additional $150 extra before their benefits are clawed back. When that happens people are discouraged from being able to earn income and lift themselves out of poverty. They’re actually penalized for doing so.”
“People can work as hard as they want, but they will end up becoming more and more dependent on the system,” added McVicar.
Coon expressed his appreciation for the work done by the social work students to move forward with a guaranteed livable income in the province: “This is a very active initiative for us right now at the Green Caucus office. We’ve just had three wonderful social work interns looking at a pilot project province-wide on guaranteed livable income for Canada.”
Cortney MacDonnell is an environmental action reporter with RAVEN (Rural Action and Voices for the Environment), a research project based at the University of New Brunswick.