Op-Ed: The country is watching our Island’s next move on a Basic Income Guarantee. Let’s make it official.

by Laurie Michael, RD, MPH; member of the PEI Working Group for a Livable Income

When discussions about a Basic Income Guarantee (BIG) gained more attention since the Covid-19 pandemic and the implementation of CERB, we saw first-hand what a program based on putting money directly into the hands of Canadians was able to do for so many during these difficult times– it prevented many from falling into poverty and let them meet basic needs.

But a Basic Income Guarantee is not a new concept in Canada. The Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) has been in effect since 1967 for Canadians over 65 years of age and has research showing the impacts that increased income has on poverty and overall improved health of these adults. In recent years, the Canada Child Benefit was established to provide families and caregivers with an income solution to help with costs of raising children.

These successful programs have some features of a basic income guarantee. For example, they are distributed with dignity. You receive them if your income tax return indicates you are eligible. You don’t have to apply specially or go through every detail of your finances, living situation, or employment history with an income support worker who decides on your eligibility.

However, the Guaranteed Income Supplement and the Canada Child Benefit are only available based on a person’s age, and they are not given out at a level that meets basic needs.

The Basic Income Guarantee I am talking about would be unconditional. It would include all adults over 18 who require a top-up to their income to meet the poverty line, regardless of their age or work status. And it would be set at a level that would meet basic needs.

Not all are convinced of this approach. A recent report of the British Columbia Expert Panel on Basic Income disagrees with the premise of BIG and focuses on putting more resources into the current social system but with a disregard for the extensive barriers that exist. In my opinion, the report is a disappointing attempt to maintain status quo and continue to ignore the root causes of poverty and disregard the Social Determinants of Health at their core.

The PEI Working Group for a Livable Income has been advocating for a Basic income Guarantee since 2013 and was recently encouraged with the publication of the Special Committee on Poverty in PEI Report (November, 2020). We strongly support the PEI government beginning with the program set out in the Special Committee report as a first step to building a Basic Income Guarantee that can begin in PEI and be scaled up for all of Canada. However, since the PEI Legislature accepted this report, unanimously and across all parties, the provincial budget has been released with no mention of a Basic Income Guarantee funding allocation.

The preferred model of basic income is one that provides no-string-attached government payments so that no one falls below the pre-set poverty line. The PEI Working Group for a Livable Income, along with Coalition Canada: basic income/revenu de base promote this income-tested model of basic income.

Prince Edward Island is widely recognized as an ideal place to launch a province-wide basic income program, with federal-provincial funds. Basic income in PEI can be the testing ground for the formation of Canada-wide basic income. The time is now to act and lead our country by example. Poverty is not a situation that is acceptable for any person to experience.

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