This Briefing Note lays out CPJ’s [Citizens for Public Justice] position on guaranteed annual income (GAI) / basic income (BI) programs to support CPJ’s participation in current debates, and to inform the development of a Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy. It complements CPJ’s work in support of the Dignity for All campaign and its proposals to eliminate poverty contained in A National Anti-Poverty Plan for Canada, published in 2015.
The idea of a basic income is in the spotlight today – here in Canada and around the world. Finland has just launched a GAI experiment and several cities and regions are exploring the idea of a basic income from Europe to India to Latin America. In Canada, the Ontario government is consulting on the design of a pilot project based on the advice of former Senator Hugh Segal. The announcement of the basic income pilot is expected this spring.
Similarly, the federal government has expressed interest in a GAI as part of its work on a national Poverty Reduction Strategy. The provinces of Quebec and Prince Edward Island, as well as the high-profile mayors of Calgary and Edmonton are also examining the idea.
This is an important moment for anti-poverty advocates who have worked over many years to create an income security system that ensures that all Canadians can meet their basic needs and live with dignity.
The idea of a basic income shines a light on the significant failings of Canada’s social safety net while holding out the promise of greater social justice and equality. It raises the conversation above piecemeal changes to individual programs to the fundamental goals of our welfare state and our obligations to each other as members of Canadian society.
There remains a good deal of debate about the desirability and design of a basic income. Will it become a strategy for reducing government’s role in social and economic policy – or a strategy to transform our system and propel meaningful change in the lives of low income individuals and families?
This Briefing Note offers a set of recommendations for guiding the development of a Guaranteed Livable Income (GLI) – an income security system that would ensure that everyone has access to the basic necessities of life and the means to participate meaningfully in the life of their community.
CPJ recognizes that a Guaranteed Livable Income does not represent a solution to all of the causes of poverty, but it is an important strategy for addressing fundamental societal inequities and highlighting the scope and impact of Canada’s current poverty reduction programs and those being considered in future.
CPJ offers the following guidance to develop a GLI program that will support and lift low-income Canadians out of poverty:
- CPJ recommends that the federal government, in collaboration with the provinces and territories develop a federal and provincial/territorial program (or programs/system) that provides a guaranteed livable income to all, reflecting the economic needs of different regions and populations.
- The proposed program should be universally and unconditionally available to all citizens, permanent residents, refugees and asylum-seekers, as a basic entitlement of membership in Canadian society.
- CPJ recommends proceeding in stages, developing a NIT program/ Top Up program that targets the needs of poor working-age adults, building on the programs that are currently working well for children and seniors.
- Federal and provincial governments should work collaboratively with non-profit partners and research centres to pilot several different models to determine the most effective design at reducing poverty and supporting low-income Canadians, taking into account that no one participating should be worse off than their current financial situation.
- Program benefits should be directed to individuals but should be structured in such a way as to recognize family composition, and other special circumstances (e.g., disability), and should be indexed to inflation.
- The basic benefit should be set high enough to foster social participation and ensure that everyone has adequate access to food, clothing, and housing. The threshold should be chosen with a view to integrating the threshold with other benefit and in-kind programs so as not to create financial barriers for low income individuals and families.
- The federal and provincial governments should work together to create an effective and stigma-free guaranteed income program for working-age adults that replaces existing programming such as social assistance and tax credits for low-income Canadians (aged 18-64). Funds freed up by the elimination of any program should be re-directed into the guaranteed income program and/or related in-kind supports.
- The government should support this initiative through the reform and/or elimination of inefficient and inequitable tax expenditure programs. New tax measures should be considered to supplement and expand the GLI program over time.
- The government should work to enhance and maintain the progressivity of the tax system, to ensure that the cost of guaranteed livable income is fairly shared among Canadians.