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BC Earmarks $4 Million to Explore Growing Basic Income Movement
Activists disagree about whether the policy idea is the right move to address poverty
When Jenna van Draanen first became involved with the Basic Income Canada Network seven years ago, she found herself constantly having to explain the group’s purpose to people she met.
Now basic income — a policy idea that encompasses a range of policy options aimed at giving people cash entitlements from the government — is creeping into the mainstream, and the BC government has committed $4 million to explore its feasibility here.
“Now people on the bus behind me will be talking about it,” the University of British Columbia postdoctoral fellow said Tuesday. “It’s been incredible to see the change in the basic income movement in that time.”
Michal Rozworski, a union researcher and economist, cautioned that not all forms of basic income are equal. In what Rozworski calls its “right wing” iteration basic income could mean a negative income tax to redistribute funds to those making less money.
“At the very other end there’s an actual universal basic income: you give everyone X amount of money per year, as a transfer, period,” he explained.
Basic Income Canada Network advocates for the latter, van Draanen explained, citing research showing such systems result in better mental and physical health outcomes, as well as social cohesion.
But as B.C. sets up a basic income expert committee, details of which the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction will release in the spring, some activists warn it could be no more than a tactic for the government to shelve the issue of poverty.
John Clarke, an activist with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty who’s visiting Vancouver to speak on a Simon Fraser University panel about basic income, said the form of basic income being piloted in Ontario right now doesn’t go far enough to help poor people.
“The Ontario pilot provides a sub-poverty payment (75 per cent of the poverty line) that certainly would not reach the objective of a universal basic income that would allow people to live quite well even if robots take their jobs away,” Clarke said.
Clarke called that approach a “subsidy for low wage employers,” that turns people with low purchasing power into “shoppers in the neoliberal market” while providing an excuse for governments to claw back other forms of social assistance like disability supports.
Meanwhile a universal, unconditional, and adequate basic income that, according to Rozworski, would cost 30 per cent of the country’s GDP, is a politically fraught concept.
“If you really gave everyone a universal basic income it would be like the state providing workers with an unlimited strike fund,” Clarke said. “It’s a complete impossibility.”
Universal public resources like child care and pharmacare do a better job of alleviating the effects of poverty than doling out cash, Clarke argued. He also said there’s a need to reform the welfare system so that it’s more humanizing.
Van Draanen agrees that more humanity is needed in Canada’s welfare system and is hopeful that an unconditional basic income existing alongside social programming will accomplish that.
“I see a lot of harmony on the left, a lot of allyship in terms of we want the same outcomes,” she said. “Most changes I’ve seen to fundamental human rights throughout history have been met with fears of impossibility.”
This article was originally published on the MetroNews on Februray 27, 2018.