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Re-instating basic income in Ontario would help raise children out of poverty

Canadian coins. Photo: KMR Photography/Flickr

As a new year begins, it is time for my annual wish list. 2018 has been a tougher year than usual for people living in Ontario, so my list is much longer -- but I'm choosing to focus on one aspect of government funding that could make a real difference to raising children in Ontario out of poverty and providing women living in or leaving abuse a real hand-up.

Premier Doug Ford and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau need to reinstate the basic income pilot. It's inconsequential whether the provincial or federal government takes the initiative; quite simply it needs to be done.

Professor Evelyn Forget, an economist in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the University of Manitob and the consummate expert on basic income, heard the urban legend about the 1970s "Mincome Pilot Project" -- what we now call basic income. Launched by the NDP Manitoba government in conjunction with then Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau's federal Liberals, the plan was to reduce poverty among the poorest and most marginalized people in Canada.

The project was a resounding success until the combination of provincial and federal conservative governments that assumed power subverted the findings and prevented them from being published. Thirty years later, Forget, discovered the more than 1,800 boxes of information. That's when she began writing about the success of this project.

The purpose of the Mincome pilot was to explore whether those receiving a financial hand-up would take advantage of the system to work less or not at all. The research overwhelmingly showed that participants did not work less.

Women used Mincome to extend short maternity leaves, but eventually returned to the workforce when their kids reached school age. Male youth stayed in high school longer because they weren't expected to help support their families. Many of these young men were able to go on to college, secure better jobs, and pay higher taxes back to their community, province and the country.

Hospitalization rates declined thanks to fewer industrial accidents and injuries as well as fewer mental-health issues. Family doctors were visited less often and there was a reduction in the number of people complaining of depression and anxiety.

Basic income, originally based on Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement, gives people over 65 years of age a guaranteed income. Canada Child Benefit (CCB), another form of basic income, is available to families with children under 18 years of age who meet family income requirements. Studies of CCB consistently support improved maternal and child mental health and well-being.

The cost of the Ontario basic income model would be about $30 billion a year. Costs could be recovered by eliminating Ontario Disability Support Programs (ODSP) and Ontario Works Programs (OW) and by adjusting tax incentives granted to high-income earners.

With basic income set at $17,000 most Canadians would not immediately stop working because their current lifestyles necessitate much higher incomes. However, employers relying on unskilled workers may have a more difficult time finding employees willing to work for working-poor wages or under dangerous conditions.

Employees would hopefully no longer need to work two and three jobs just to make ends meet. Some basic income recipients would be able to go back to school. Still others would finally have the money to meet friends for coffee or buy their kids a hot chocolate after skating. All of these are good outcomes.

Ideally, basic income recipients would continue to receive Ontario Health Insurance Program (OHIP) as well as expanded universal prescription and dental programs.

With precarious employment the norm these days, social safety nets like basic income provide the financial stability parents need to plan for the future and to raise their children out of poverty. Regardless of employment status, basic income gives women living in or leaving abusive relationships the reliable financial means to leave and not return.

2019 is a new year full of hope and promise. It's time to share those gifts by implementing a basic income.

For more on basic income, see: https://twitter.com/HumansBasic

Doreen Nicoll is a freelance writer, teacher, and social activist.

Photo: KMR Photography/Flickr

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