Guaranteed minimum income: A solution to the social and economic price of poverty?

Guaranteed minimum income: A solution to the social and economic price of poverty?

In my MLA report last week, I briefly discussed a couple sad stories from the constituency office: Two kind individuals in our community who have no option but to rely on the B.C.'s Persons With Disabilities benefits for survival. Currently, if you are disabled and unable to work in B.C., as a single adult you receive $375 per month for housing and $521 per month for basic living expenses.  To make matters worse - as some of our neighbours found out, any money you are able to bring in will results in the government clawing back your paltry benefit.  

On the Bill Good Show today, I discussed a possible solution called the "guaranteed minimum income," a proposal which aims to provide a dignified quality of life to every individual, while reducing demands on the social service systems that oversee welfare and poverty-related social ills such as homelessness and mental illness - costs which are so often downloaded to municipalities and law-enforcement.

Also see: Guranteed minimum income worthy of a closer look | Delta Optimist


Partial Transcript:

Bill Good: What has inspired you to raise this issue now?

Vicki Huntington: Well, it was the fact that I'm dealing with a number of cases in the riding that are very difficult and people are simply not managing. The two cases I wrote about happen to be ones where they are persons with disabilities and they have no option for working to further enhance their income and they can't make it on the disability rates that they're being offered by government.

I've for some time now been thinking about the advocacy that has come out of the recent senate report authored by Hugh Segal - and other discussions about guaranteed minimum incomes - and I wondered whether it wasn't time to truly take a good hard look at whether there's a cost benefit to at least studying the issue of whether it would be cheaper to provide a guaranteed minimum income, provide more dignity to individuals and ensure people that we can lift them out of that situation.

Good: And it's interesting. We've been covering the protestors in Oppenheimer Park and as a result of that coverage, Jessica went down and met a man named Dan who we featured a couple of days ago on the program. He's a 53-year-old man who's on disability. He's living and has for seven years been living in a smaller than 100 square foot apartment in a single-room occupancy hotel. He has a hot plate and a microwave and has to exist on something in the neighbourhood of $500 a month. You just think: really? In our society today?

Huntington: That's the issue. A person with a disability in British Columbia, a single person, there's so many different categories that it's amusing to just read the charts where the different categories fall. But a single person with a disability will get support - income support of $531 and a shelter support for $375; a maximum of $906. How can you live on that? You can't, and these are people that have no other options. So you begin to think that in a society that believes we need to help our brothers and sisters that we aren't doing it right. . .

Good: It's interesting you mention this today because Brigitte Anderson brought me in an article titled "The Pitchforks Are Coming For Us Plutocrats," written by a very wealthy man in Seattle by the name of Nick Hanauer. Are you familiar with his work?

Huntington: No, I'm not - but I'm familiar with the whole issue of the plutocracies and the plutocrats and leaving the rest of us behind.

Good: If you can get it on line, it's an outstanding article, and it certainly makes you think. He goes back to the days of Henry Ford. He said Henry Ford at least knew that he had to pay his workers enough that they could be consumers, too, and perhaps buy one of the cars they made. This seems to be being lost on us as corporations and others seem to want to downsize and cut, cut, cut to the point where people are working for very little. He actually applauds Seattle for its $15 minimum wage. He said people thought it was crazy when people were suggesting it a few years ago and now Seattle's doing it and he's applauding them.

Huntington: Well, if you're going to have a minimum wage it has to be a wage that provides you with at least a decent living, and our wage levels don't and our support levels don't. And when you think about the huge number of income support programs we have (they're all operating in different silos with different employees, with different departments) it makes you wonder what a thorough study of congregating all of that money and looking at it as an income support through the open tax system, even, and doing a thorough cost-benefit analysis of whether we're doing this all wrong and whether or not we could be actually helping people move out of poverty if we assembled the money differently.

Good: What would a minimum wage or a minimum income look like?

Huntington: Well, I can't pretend to say that I know what a program would look like. This would be a very complicated effort, and a lot of people are doing work on it. There's an organization in Canada called the Basic Income Canada Network that's espousing a minimum income. The Nunavut antipoverty study has done it and they are looking at a minimum income; 40% of their population are on income assistance.

Also, interestingly, in Manitoba in the 1970s there was a provincial/federal pilot program in Dauphin, and for a number of years they provided a basic annual income to individuals. Because of the recession it was stopped and nobody analyzed the data and it was only in 2011 that they looked at what the success rate had been and it was very interesting. They found data against the argument that 'if you provide a minimum income, people aren't going to bother working'

But they didn't find that at all. They found that there were two categories of people who worked significantly less, and that was new mothers or teenagers who were helping to support their families. There were fewer hospitalizations. There were fewer mental health diagnoses. The cost to the system started to drop significantly. And there was a study done with regard to a reduction in work ethic by people receiving - and they found only 1 per cent of the men reduced their work effort, 3 per cent of married women, 5 per cent of unmarried women. So the abuse of the system was almost minimal and they found that there was a totally different attitude towards people by society as a whole.

So it's time. I'm just saying we need to do another significant pilot study of that nature. We've got to look at a different way of helping people rise out of poverty, helping people live a dignified life. Goodness knows we try, but our systems just aren't working. I'm just saying this is maybe time to look at a universal approach to the difficulties we have with some people in our society.


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