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The Promise of a Basic Income in Canada

The Promise of a Basic Income in Canada
The idea of a Basic Income has gained a great deal of traction in the past year. A non-judgemental, low-bureaucracy income floor was voted on in Switzerland, a pilot is underway in Finland, and another is planned for Ontario. It has moved from an unconventional idea to a serious policy option.
 
Basic Income presents an alternative to Canada’s existing last-resort income system (variously known as welfare, social assistance, income assistance, etc.), in which people facing hard times are forced to open every corner of their lives to an invasive government bureaucracy just to access a grossly inadequate monthly income.
 
The Canadian economy has gone through revolutionary change in the past thirty years. It has been transformed by globalization and technological change, and the current reality bears little resemblance to what existed when food banks were first founded. However, our system of social supports has not evolved to meet the needs of Canadians.
 
As just one example of this failure, social assistance fails to offer even a basic level of support to our most vulnerable citizens. It also fails to transition Canadians into training or jobs that offer a way into a better life. Millions of Canadians rely on this broken system.
 
The HungerCount 2016 report calls on provincial and territorial governments to dismantle their social assistance programs and create a Basic Income, administered through the tax system. It also presents a number of short-term, practical steps that can lead us away from the current system: 

  • Allow all low-income households to have access to the non-cash benefits that are currently available exclusively to households on social assistance (e.g., child care subsidies, affordable housing supplements, drug and dental insurance).
  • Provide support to households before they hit bottom by increasing the level of liquid assets a household is allowed to have when applying for and receiving social assistance.
  • Allow households on welfare to earn higher levels of income through work, without having their benefits reduced.
  • Convert federal non-refundable tax credits into refundable tax credits, where appropriate. These include but are not limited to the Disability Tax Credit, credits for family caregivers, and the credit for public transit users. 
We need provincial, territorial and federal governments to move from inertia to innovation in our social programs. We need to examine unusual and difficult ideas like Basic Income – and abandon failed programs, like social assistance, that often do more harm than good in Canadians’ lives. 


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Hunger Facts

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38%

of food distributed by Canadian food banks is fresh (eg. milk, eggs, fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, bread)