Will Getting to a New Normal Include a Basic Income Guarantee?

By Noreen Steinacher and Brian McHattie

This our third and final letter (for now) on the concept of a basic income guarantee (BIG), reflecting on whether the idea would improve lives for individuals and families in Northern Bruce Peninsula.

The Community Information and Resource Coordination service (CIRC) at The Meeting Place is a good place to learn about our community. The folks they assist come from every different demographic from families with children to single moms, to single individuals, to grandparents raising grand-children. Interestingly, the largest group are ‘seasonally employed’  by income source. Many come to CIRC for help accessing the mystically complex myriad of government and social programs that might or might not assist local folks, including the new Covid-19-related income programs. One wonders if a BIG would be a different kind of income support, ultimately assisting more people to enjoy the music, fitness and learning programs at The Meeting Place, leaving ‘system navigation’ behind.

Change is hard; even good change is stressful. Today many are longing to get back to ‘normal’; many are also reminding us our ‘normal’ wasn’t all that great. Long before the Pandemic hit and the CERB was established taking millions of people out of short term economic crisis, the federal government and others including the Senate were taking a hard look at the cost of a Canadian Basic Income. Why? Because 8.7% of our population was already living in an economic crisis and many others in  precarious and seasonal work are not even included in the official count. This is not good for people, not good for children and its not good for the economy, but its our ‘normal’.

In April 2018, The Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) released an estimate of what it would cost to make basic income a reality in Canada; net cost $43 billion; this includes savings from welfare and disability benefits it would replace. The BIG would be there for way more people. About 7.5 million Canadians would see some benefit. To put this in perspective, Canadian Governments’ budgets totalling are in the hundreds of billions. The estimate is a simplified snapshot on spending if nothing else changed but with a basic income, plenty would change; especially a decrease in the health care costs associated with living with low income. Eighteen billion in health care costs are the estimated savings tallied by researcher Dr. Evelyn Forget, University of Manitoba. So you can begin to see the argument that change might just be worth it.

Change in thinking starts close to home; let’s increase our awareness of who lives here and who may not be getting a fair livelihood; increase our understanding of equity and our capacity for empathy. A couple of suggestions for this. Watch the HuffPost Canada’s ‘No Strings Attached’ project following 3 families on the Ontario Basic Income pilot and the aftermath of its cancellation. https://projects.huffingtonpost.ca/no-strings-attached/

Do some reading on economics if that’s your interest and see how the Modern Economic Theory provides solid economic arguments as a foundation for programs like BIG.  Take a look at the readable book, “The Deficit Myth” by Stephanie Kelton.

Talk to your friends and neighbours about how much you value living here with its wonderful mix of people. Especially connect with the women who work in our community in the 5 C’s; caring, clerical, catering, cashiering and cleaning. These are some of the people hardest hit during the COVID crisis and we are wondering about whether the ‘recovery’ is going to be any better for them. Make a call to Municipal, Provincial and Federal representatives and let them know you are concerned about long-term economic recovery for yourself and others. Thinking local might just mean your support for a ‘new normal’ is ignited.

Picturing the Basic Income Guarantee Working for People Living in the Northern Bruce

By Noreen Steinacher and Brian McHattie

We ended our last blog by asking the question how the BIG, the Basic Income Guarantee might play out on the Saugeen Bruce Peninsula given our seasonal economy, small population, and older demographic. What an important question. We know many people in the Northern Bruce have benefitted from receiving the CERB but this is an economic crisis. Should the door stay open after the crisis and for what compelling reasons?

The best information available to bring us closer to a local perspective is to check in with the 210 citizens in Hamilton, Brantford and Brant County who actually lived with a basic income guarantee in 2017 for up to 17 months of a 3-year program. Theirs was a story of hope, change and the reshaping of living standards documented by four McMaster University researchers. As a starting point, let’s be clear that 69% of those receiving the basic income in the pilot were employed (in low income or precarious work) and 31% unemployed. This finding is important.

  • The majority of those employed before the pilot reported working while they were receiving basic income. Many reported moving to higher paying and more secure jobs or returning to school.

So here we see evidence of people’s continued motivation to work and better their economic situation while receiving the basic income guarantee. This information may help to dispel worries that the BIG is a disincentive to work in an area like ours, which needs workers.

The other big finding was a huge reduction in stress and anxiety. How would this experience translate to seasonal workers in the Northern Bruce? The worry about reaching EI eligibility and trying to max out overtime hours to get extended EI coverage would be significantly reduced. Predictable income, even if low or in the form of benefits helps to reduce economic insecurity. Evaluations from the basic income pilot illustrate the connection between increased funds and decreased stress.

There were a whole host of health and social behaviors measured that also may reflect potential benefits from a basic income guarantee for those living in the Northern Bruce. These were measurable changes during the time people received the basic Income guarantee.

  • 43% decrease in alcohol consumption
  • 73% increase in physical activity
  • 67% decrease in food bank use
  • 85% increase in nutritious food
  • 48% increase in volunteering
  • 69% increase in time spent with family

Seeing this kind of positive change, and in a short time, is nothing short of amazing. Here we get a glimpse of people who are healthier and can contribute more to family and community life.  Any community would welcome this kind of change. You can read the whole research paper at https://labourstudies.mcmaster.ca/documents/southern-ontarios-basic-income-experience.pdf

Unfortunately the 3 year, three region pilot program in Ontario was cancelled by the Ontario Conservative government within months after being elected in 2018 with Minister Lisa McLeod saying, ‘it wasn’t working’. The McMaster Basic Income Guarantee findings were just published in March, 2020.

What else do we know about the income picture in the Northern Bruce? A few quick indicators for our area tell us the low-income prevalence, that’s poverty, is 14.2%; that’s higher than the Bruce average of 13.3% (Public Health Grey Bruce, 2015) and there were 545 low-income households in NBP at the 2016 census. But we are missing some vital information about our labour force. Just how many full time residents of the Northern Bruce are working long, hard hours in the summer season and then have to rely on EI as an income security measure for the rest of the year? These are the folks who are raising children, trying to keep our schools and child care centres thriving, paying housing and food costs and in many cases living an economic roller coaster. They are also trying to stay healthy and participate in community life. We need more information about our workforce for the community, business leaders and municipal government to better understand the economic options that might work differently for an important segment of our community. In our next ‘blog’ let’s consider what would be involved in challenging the status quo. The discussion continues.

SPARK Project Newsletter, Issue #5

SPARK – Seasonal Workers & Entrepreneurs Spark Ideas (for our Community)

As we follow the Spark project objectives, the Tobermory Spark Groups have transitioned to a next phase. From January to April, 2020, the intent of the small working groups made up of community volunteer participants, each with a facilitator, was to meet and focus on the first two steps in a design thinking process. The task was to identify creative ideas, small or more comprehensive, which might support seasonal workers and their families and entrepreneurs who are residents of Northern Bruce.

Three groups worked with a process that included Empathy and Need Finding and Idea Generation and Prototyping.  The COVID-19 crisis slowed the work but groups ended up with a good number of ideas ready for further development.

Here are some of the emerging ideas focused on seasonal workers who live here.

  1. Affordable Long Term Rental (LTR) Accommodation Inventory Development and Promotion
  2. Local Ride Share and App development
  3. E-Bike Affordable Leasing for work and recreation, with a future Social Enterprise or business
  4. Virtual Resource Exchange. This initiative began the strategy/testing stage during the ‘lock down’ so will need to be reassessed for future application.
  5. Building a Local ‘People’ Resource Inventory – extension of a Community Asset Map
  6. ‘Extending the Season’; an idea that keeps coming up! – Both an economic development approach and an earnings redistribution approach are of interest. Huge!

With our new project facilitator, Rachel McLay working 2 days a week, the next phase will be to finish the prototyping and move into Strategy and Testing. Here the project takes the ideas and their prototypes and strategizes next steps with the help of community input. For this phase we hope to generate more community interest, research each of the ideas and pull together local people with passion and know how who can make things happen. Not easy during this pandemic recovery time.

Other activities may include talking with our original project supporters and consultants; doing some quick idea ‘pitches’ on-line for feedback and an on-line survey for others in the seasonal workforce; negotiating possible partnerships for some ideas; finding the support and resources for others. This is a strengthening phase where good ideas emerge into plans. We will try to evaluate what is more feasible to work on in the recovery period and what might be left for a later time. We have until March 2021 to complete the funded part of the Spark project. Not all idea development needs to proceed at the same time or pace but it will be good to have prototypes and plans ready to go as opportunities arise; be “shovel ready”. We are counting on some of our community to feel resilient enough to get involved.

Did you know there is a Spark group working in Lion’s Head? The Spark Lion’s Head NpCoWork Group is addressing the question, “What’s Needed for Entrepreneurs to Thrive 12 months of the Year on NBP?” They have also identified a number of emerging ideas and are working on at least one initiative, the e-Market, that is in the testing phase on-line and evaluating how things go.

There continues to be opportunity for collaboration between Tobermory and Lion’s Head project work but the emphasis going forward is on the development of each initiative through research, strategizing and testing, growing the number of participants affiliated with each initiative.

The Spark project has received great support and practical ideas from the Bruce Grey Poverty Task Force and Tamarack Learning Institute. The Spark project has also adopted the use of an innovative on-line platform called ‘Slack’, which helps projects like Spark to communicate among members, share documents and research on each initiative and build expertise and learning. Using ‘Slack’ is also a work in progress, especially for volunteers. Thanks to everyone involved and to date we have had 23 people working on Spark.

Questions, comments or expressions of interest in joining the project can be directed to Rachel McLay at The Meeting Place Tobermory at 519-596-2313 or info@tobermorymeetingplace.com

Noreen Steinacher MSW RSW
Spark project coordinator at The Meeting Place Tobermory