The Idea of a Basic Income Pilot Project

Report written by Kane McIntyre

On November 10th, the LYAC held a discussion on the Basic Income Pilot Project discussion. This project is relevant because London was being considered as a potential test market for basic income and possibly the nation’s largest pilot project at that. As a short-term goal, the Ontario government has put out twenty-five million dollars to tackle inequality and poverty in a selected community within Ontario. In which, will help people’s basic needs who are living in low-income poverty.

The Basic Income Pilot Project is a supply of living wages the government will cut a check of $1320 every month to provide for basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter, giving people the opportunity to make choices in their lives. An additional $500 will be provided through the province’s social assistance programs for people on disability, which will most likely replace other welfare systems such as Ontario Disability Support Program(ODSP) and Ontario Works if the project succeeds. This project will also measure if being paid on individual basis gives people time to think about what society could be like with no-strings-attached cash.

The Reaction

In this discussion, there were a variety of definitions to this scenario of distributed income as the councillors shifted between universal income and poverty income. What the councillors discovered during this discussion is that this is a huge topic to discuss, and it’s hard to come to conclusions within a few meetings. There is always improvements and downfalls in any situation money is given and spent. With many diverse groups in Ontario, the money will be handled differently by everyone. There is no linear correlation of how the money was going to be spent in individuals lives for the better or worse. Questions around the circle often led to debates between humanitarian views vs the state of London’s economy; our individual engagement vs chance-given collective opportunities.

The conversation generated both excitement and skepticism about whether  this project could work. It was left to the councillor’s skepticism to feel this project could be a backlash on tax dollars raising in cost, but also believe it could help out people as they were curious what could potentially happen with Basic Income in the hands of ordinary people. The councillors also expressed worries whether the Basic Income Project will replace other support programs. The group agreed that it would be a significant transition to put Basic Income in action.

Government Business

The basic income project is not a new concept for Canada.  A basic income experiment was carried out in Manitoba from 1974-1979., involving 30% of the population of a town called Dauphin. Internationally, basic income has been entertained by countries around the world. Switzerland recently rejected the idea of a basic income, that was initially conceived to balance the high living costs of the country. . Another one, Kayley spoke of, is an alternative version in Brazil they used with conditions, Bolsa Família. She explained that one of the conditions for receiving basic income was agreeing to be vaccinated. However, this project was not universal to all Brazilians – the project was for only those on the poverty line.

Topped off Money

Note: Topped off money is when receiving income on top of another program’s income.

The discussion circled back to Canada and the councillors raised new questions such as does it depend on how much money you make first or can you be topped off anytime while supported from other programs, such as those supporting mental health issues or disabilities? The councillors noted some programs give  a deduction to clients of  multiple programs. There are also programs that ask that you to prove you are looking for jobs or are only limited to family income.

There was a rift between holding to regulations versus people having a choice to consult their living wage through the Ontario Disability Support Program. One councilor suggested there needs to be requirements met, rather than just no-strings-attached money. Another councillor disagreed and said that Basic Income can help the lower and middle classes feel secure, thus helping the economy feel secure. People in poverty have not had the same opportunities and privileges as others, this opportunity could extend impoverished people’s capability to contribute.

Talk isn’t cheap

We stopped for a moment to point out many of the councillors were skeptical about the project. A few members of the group expressed that they liked the idea, but did not have confidence it will work in practice. Here are some of their concerns and questions:

  • One councillor pointed out the stigma that comes with the project in terms of using support money for drug use
  • Even though the money could potentially help youth get clothing and food, many people are not earning a living wage, and can’t afford everything they need as they are living paycheck by paycheck.
  • A councillor referred the money to be used as a safety net to survive and get a leg back up.
  • One councillor thought $1320 is a small amount of money to live on,  but it is better than having no money at all.
  • A councillor asked can we use money with respect and dignity or will we greed for more money? People will always want more, better cars and cool clothes.
  • Another councillor disagreed and said the purpose could be for long-term investments. There are certain jobs in demand we need in order to function as a society, and some wondered whether people would be willing to work those jobs with a basic income.
  • As this view came into play, another councillor challenged the view towards an incentive based system of alleviating costs, suggesting instead we should give people better benefits at work.
  • People could risk being fired from their jobs and know they can depend on the money to support them with Basic income in place.

School

The topic only became more diverse as councillors inquired into the impacts on education, questioning whether more people would drop out of school if a universal support was in place. Will people even want to go to school? What are our aspirations when it comes to school? One councillor pointed out there are more costs than tuition for school including textbooks, food, rent, and other living expenses. Another councillor agreed while it can provide the basic necessities for education, it is still complicated to have this conversation because there are too many more factors we don’t know such as those who are in isolation, alienation or arrived through immigration, to which another councillor suggested why wouldn’t we drop the basic income altogether and have free education instead? Rising costs of tuition could be a topic for a whole other meeting.

The answer landed on what passion someone holds in the end, that is, the intention behind using the money in the first place. In an optimistic view, some councillors agreed passion fuels our drive for careers or education, not the money, and Basic Income will not change the way we use money towards education. A few councillors agreed the income would help with student’s education whether they choose to pay off the rest of their education with it or a student receives a bad grade and has the safety net to drop a course that they can take another year or another course they prefer. They could finish college a year later if they chose to. It’s a strategic game with money and only an individual can decide how to value it.

Tax returns

The councillors asked how taxes would come into play, whether the project would involve taxing the rich to provide the needs of the poor and are paid back or paying the income back through government taxes? They considered the statistics, the more money you make, the more you give to taxes. Through taxes, people would get a return on investment and empower more people to take part in economy. One councillor called it a vicious cycle. However, the others went on to say tax is not a bad thing as the government provides various goods and services to the community.

Many councillors were in the same boat of how much money we spend on services already such as London’s police and firefighter budget. It was also mentioned earlier by a councillor, for those who work a lot and deserve and earned this money and their lives, should we be taking their money? Another councillor said it’s not just through hard work do we earn money. There are other basic need programs to give people survive skills with a balance of training skills and money for their needs.

In the end, it came down to three factors, decision-making, information on its uses and how it will affect the economy. The Basic Income Pilot Project may have potential, but needs a lot more details as there are many concerns to address, and many seem to be cautiously optimistic about the potential for the project.

Big Questions

  • How will the Basic Income project impact us?
  • How much would taxes rise under the Basic Income project?
  • Can we balance profit and skills in other government providence programs?

What we still need to learn

  • What are the attitudes of students towards a Basic Income pilot project? Does it impact their attitudes towards post-secondary education?
  • How has basic income succeeded elsewhere? In what forms has it taken?
  • Is London the best place to start this Pilot Project?
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