Durham community leaders are encouraging governments at all levels to consider basic income for people across Canada.
It comes as individuals and families continue their struggle to make ends meet amid the ongoing pandemic.
As the executive director of Feed the Need Durham, Ben Earl has seen first-hand how the pandemic has highlighted growing poverty and financial instability in the region.
“The long time attrition of middle-class incomes, the changing labour market and increasing market precarity, growing poverty and inequality — those problems have all been around for a long time,” Earl said.
“The pandemic just made it very clear and showed those gaps very clearly to many more Canadians.”
Earl, who is also the general manager of the Basic Income Canada Network, says while food bank use in Durham increased when the virus first emerged, it dropped when the government came out with the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit.
It’s part of what led him to call on the region, in addition to higher levels of government, to seriously consider implementing a basic income model.
“When we look at the range of experiments that have been done over time, around the world, in Canada, we see individual and family benefits and we see community benefits,” said Sheila Regehr, chair of BICN.
“There is this pattern for individual families where health and well-being improves, ability to work improves too.”
Advocates add countries including Canada, the U.S. and India have all undertaken basic income experiments. A two-year basic income project in Stockton, Calif., found 125 participants’ physical and mental health improved after receiving monthly cheques of $500. Most residents were considered low-income.
A recent report by BICN details how Canada could potentially fund $22,000 annually for adults.
Alec King with Canadian Mental Health Association Durham says guaranteed income could also help those suffering with mental health and addictions.
“People with legitimate mental health issues are struggling to get through with what’s on (Ontario Disability Support Program),” King said.
“With a universal basic income we would see everyone being able to survive and improve themselves and do things the best possible way.”
Despite this, critics argue basic income could make individuals unmotivated to stay employed and could fuel further substance addictions.
Oshawa Mayor Dan Carter calls these misconceptions, and says he’s been fighting them for the last four years while trying to have a basic income pilot project implemented at a regional level.
“We will always know that we will have to continue to invest in mental health and addiction (services). We also have to understand that there are individuals, unfortunately, that are addicted to some of the most potent drugs around. That doesn’t stop us from doing the right thing,” he said.
“I believe in my heart of hearts with the guaranteed income, we would have a higher rate of success than failure. Why not give it a shot?”
In late February, MP Julie Dzerowicz introduced Bill C-273, which aims to establish a national strategy for basic income.
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