Income Support Programs that Truly Work

Mar 17 2016

On Wednesday March 16, 2016, I was interviewed by CBC K-W regarding the basic guaranteed income. Before and after the interview there have been brief news items that report I am not in support of basic guaranteed income. At no time did I say that a guaranteed income was a bad idea. I did say it was a good direction to go with much still to be worked out. People who have only heard these brief items have been understandably critical. I have written the summary below which presents the main points I made. Trudy Beaulne, Executive Director, Social Development Centre Waterloo Region

The concept of a basic guaranteed income is very appealing and it is interesting that it is being encouraged from diverse political perspectives. I wonder though what assumptions underlie this encouragement. These will need to be articulated more fully as steps are taken to design and pilot test a program. 

We know that current social assistance, disability support and minimum wage levels are not adequate to bring people out of poverty.  Having an income floor, below which we do not want anyone to fall is important and should be supported. The way by which we make this happen must be give serious consideration and designed well so we do not put anyone at risk in the short or long term.  

There are significant questions about how to design a program that is workable, for all life stages and for all income needs, and which does not compromise the full range of supports that many people need. Any cost calculations I have seen put a very large price tag on such a program Canada-wide. To make it work we need a commitment to progressive and sufficient taxation. It would be sad indeed if the idea were to be cut short because it is seen to be too expensive. Even worse if a program is implemented and then begins to be whittled away in future cost cutting measures.  

In addition, given that the current employment environment is precarious and often exploitative, there is a legitimate concern about giving employers an 'out', especially if we have limited avenues to ensure that everyone can get decent work with decent pay. We need to make sure that there is a good connection between income support programs and decent work initiatives. Unless our overall program design considers the larger context and the trends in the low pay employment environment, we could put people at risk of being worse off.  

I am supportive of both governments of Ontario and Canada considering guaranteed income and want to ensure any program that is introduced works for those who need it most. We already have examples of programs that have been working that we should look to learn from: old age security, baby bonus and employment insurance. These are forms of guaranteed income programs.  

Waterloo Region would be an excellent pilot community for the provincial government to develop and test a basic guaranteed income. There is so much about this region that would lend itself to fully exploring this type of program.  

In our discussions regarding basic income guarantee, we see many positive aspects and also have questions that must be considered. We need to be critical, not to avoid or discourage but to be sure we have income support programs that truly work for those who need it. 

 

See the following for further information: 

PFO Bulletin #13 - Creating Communities of Shared Opportunity across Ontario 

Also, a link to more information about the forum we hosted last May: 

Social Development Centre Waterloo Region May 1, 2015 forum on Decent Lives

 

Additional analysis from Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives: 

A Federal Plan to Tackle Poverty and Inequality 

Fast Facts: Fight food insecurity with income 

Possibilities and Prospects: The Debate Over a Guaranteed Income

 

Broadbent Institute Debate: 

Progressives and the Guaranteed Income Debate

CBC Kitchener Waterloo:

Minimum income programs need nuance to succeed