The problem with welfare and the promise of basic income


There is one of school of thought in Canada right now that suggests we need only bring welfare rates up to adequate levels to solve the issue of poverty. This is a completely inadequate response that needs to be challenged.

Even if agreements to raise welfare rates in all the Provinces and Territories could be negotiated and implemented, the problems with proceeding to do nothing more than raise the welfare rates are profound and fundamental. For it’s not only that the welfare program rates are hideously low – it’s that the programs are wholly dysfunctional and destructive of the well being of recipients.  No one who knows anything about the subject denies this and skeptics need only listen to Canadians who have lived within those systems to understand how impossibly stressed and despairing their lives are.

People must first render themselves truly destitute, denuded of virtually all assets and savings, in order to be eligible for benefits. Then, they’re subject to a myriad number of rules — more than 800 in Ontario alone, according to the former Ontario Minister in Charge of Poverty Reduction, Deborah Matthews. Recipients of welfare are also required to report in regularly, to justify themselves and their life situations to bureaucrats; they must seek work no matter how futile the search is, or how impossible it would be for them to take a job because they have very young children in their care and can’t afford child care.

They’re subject to surveillance, stigmatized and socially isolated, distrusted, and harassed. Should a job be obtained, their benefits are docked, sometimes dollar for dollar. As well, the recipient stands to lose other benefits, such as eye care or mental health counseling, to name but two. Our welfare systems present impoverished Canadians with an endless series of Catch 22s. It’s one of the key reasons why they are trapped in poverty.

Basic income solution

Income adequacy is only one part of basic income’s powerful potential to improve the lives of the impoverished. In addition, the benefit would be simple to access and unconditional with respect to work status. There would be no control of the budgeting or other life choices for recipients and no reporting in or surveillance, no stigma or humiliation involved. Recipients would be able to live in dignity, to control their own lives and budgets.

The Canadian basic income movement is gaining momentum daily. Three Liberal Party of Canada policy resolutions urge the Federal government to explore the possibilities for a nationwide program. The Green Party of Canada has had a developed plan to introduce a form of basic income and the Federal NDP party has established a committee to study it.

Ontario is launching a basic income pilot this year, Quebec is exploring the possibility for a Provincial basic income program and a preliminary announcement is expected soon. The Prince Edward Island legislature has voted unanimously their collective willingness to partner with the Federal government to create a province-wide trial. Guy Caron, the only NDP Leadership candidate who is an economist, has basic income as a major plank in his platform. Robin Boadway, a world renowned Canadian public finance economist, has prepared a costing analysis demonstrating that on a certain set of assumptions a reasonable level basic income could be funded without changing tax rates.

Can there be any reasonable doubt that basic income is no upstart or fly-by-night policy concept?