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.