By Jenn Watt
Living through a pandemic has changed the way many of us look at the formerly accepted way of doing things. From curbside delivery to working from home, we’re re-examining what we once thought was impractical, and finding there might be a better way, even following the pandemic.
The same may be true for universal basic income – which offers a stipend from the government ensuring everyone has an income meeting a certain threshold – or something similar.
Last month, the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit board wrote a letter to the prime minister, deputy prime minister and minister of finance, asking them to take a look at extending the Canada Emergency Response Benefit beyond the pandemic, noting the power of guaranteed income to keep households afloat when jobs are scarce, improving mental health and providing stability.
This isn’t a new message for the health unit, which has pointed to income as one of the key factors in attaining good physical and mental health. In a 2017 column, Mary Lou Mills, a HKPR District Health Unit social determinants of health nurse detailed some of the positive results of the basic income pilot conducted in Manitoba in the 1970s. It found a lower hospitalization rate and fewer visits to health-care providers for mental illness.
To the question of whether a guaranteed income would encourage people to work less, Mills said the pilot found “teenagers and new mothers were the only groups to work less.”
In an effort to test those decades-old findings, the provincial government embarked on a three-year study of 4,000 people in three regions, one in Lindsay. Unfortunately, that pilot was truncated when a new government took over, leaving researchers with little data.
(Researchers at McMaster and Ryerson universities partnered with the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction did attempt to harvest information from the first year of the study, surveying 217 participants from the Hamilton, Brantford and Brant County area and found 75 per cent of those who were working when the project began continued working, some of them in better jobs with higher wages. According to the CBC, a wide majority of survey respondents reported better overall health while receiving the guaranteed income.)
Here in Haliburton County, we may be seeing positive effects from the short-term CERB funding. At the annual general meeting for Point in Time Centre for Children, Youth and Parents, executive director Marg Cox pointed out how beneficial the steady income has been for some.
“It has made such a huge difference in people’s lives when they’re not necessarily struggling to find out where the next meal comes from,” she said.
As we continue forward into many more months of economic uncertainty, the timing seems right to try a basic income pilot once again.