Coronavirus financial crisis: nothing new for many

The PEI Working Group for a Livable Income highlights the fact that the novel Coronavirus (COVID19) is making visible the gaps in our current systems. There is a cross-the-board anxiety about how people will survive the economic crisis. For some groups and individuals, this means feeling this fear and risk for the first time. For many others, however, there is nothing “novel” about the vulnerability associated with the current pandemic. Fear and insecurity are part of daily life for some, regardless of whether a global pandemic is occurring. 

Too many people experience a lack of income as a result of structural and systemic barriers related to race, gender, sex, ability, age, geography, nationality, immigration status and trauma. Many people from marginalized communities experience poverty and face daily struggles. Sadly, that does not illicit the level of empathy which is currently being leveraged in PEI, Canada and across the world. Too many Island residents lack safe housing to be able to self-isolate, too many Island residents lack enough income to ‘stockpile’ necessary supplies and groceries. Having empathy and reaching out during difficult times are both positive actions. It’s something we should examine and extend beyond this current crisis. We must ask ourselves why don’t we offer the same understanding during our “regular” lives? 

With the recent emergence of COVID 19 many of our entrenched “ways of being” or “knowing” are crumbling. This dissolution of the norm creates an opportunity for change. To create meaningful change, we must first accept that the status quo is unjust. We must also accept that specific people and groups of people are not afforded the same dignity, opportunity and livelihoods. Our systems are broken and COVID 19 is an opportunity for us to accept and re-examine the way we value and include all members of our community. 

COVID 19 has made clear that the essential workers are often the ones earning the lowest wages with a lack of benefits and favourable job conditions. This reality should have been glaring already but given the current measures related to physical distancing and self isolation it’s irrefutable. Now is the time to transform our economy by providing Basic Income Guarantee, living wages and Increased workers’ benefits through Employment Standards. 

We must take seriously measures to address poverty while also curbing rising income inequality in Canada and across the world. Income inequality continues to rise, 26 billionaires own the equivalent of half the world’s wealth and in Canada 43 billionaires own the equivalent of half the country’s wealth. Where are these billionaire job creators now? Jeff Bezos was asking for the public to donate to his relief fund for workers even though he is the richest man in the world and worth an estimated 114 billion dollars. The hypocrisy must end. 

Let the legacy of COVID 19 be the transformational changes it creates among our communities, society and economy. Let’s stop pretending that people experience poverty because of individual flaws. Let’s make the necessary policy leaps needed to include everyone: Basic Income Guarantee is offered to everyone who earns below a certain (livable) income. It will require tax reform to curb income inequality. These are the necessary policy shifts needed to respond to this crisis and prevent financial insecurity in the future. 

The PEI Working Group for a Livable Income is a voice in PEI for Basic Income Guarantee (BIG). Our campaign, called C-BIG PEI, has a great deal of support from the community and from many politicians. We are urging provincial and federal governments to begin immediately the process of establishing Basic Income Guarantee. This means adhering to the priciple that having basic needs met is a right of all people, regardless of attachment to the workforce. It means policies and practices to ensure the re-distribution of wealth. It means careful planning and collaboration among federal-provincial-territorial governments. Two lessons from the emergency responses are that such cooperation is possible, and that money can be found. Yes, BIG can happen here in PEI and in all of Canada. 

Jillian Kilfoil represents Women’s Network PEI on the PEI Working Group for a Livable Income.

Published in the Guardian 13 April 2020.


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