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Opportunity in Crisis

Posted: Jul 01, 2019


“We’ve been trying to figure out how to effectively help the most vulnerable for years, but we’ve always ignored the simplest solution because we thought the cost was too high.” says EndPovertyEdmonton Executive Director Erick Ambtman. “With unprecedented damage to public health and the economy happening concurrently, no price is too high to save what we value.”

A federally provided, and provincially supported, crisis income could ensure that all people and all businesses have what they need to make it through this. Initial studies on basic income principals have shown that when provided with no-strings cash, most people use it to take better care of themselves. We need to give it to everyone, without condition. At this point, it would mean having money for rent and groceries or the extra cash to keep a business afloat. Crisis income for everyone could make the difference between recession and depression, something Albertans are all too aware is possible.

“Asked to choose between their money and their health, people want to say they’d choose their health. Most people though, they realize that without money, life can be really, really difficult, with horrible choices like rent or food, but not both. Nothing restricts and restrains like a lack of income, it makes it hard to do the right thing.” Ambtman explains.“I don’t want to sound pessimistic, but we’re heading over a cliff right now and our usual tactics of tossing pillows on the ground to catch the most vulnerable just aren’t going to work. What we need is a crash mat.”

“Our bet is that given the choices that money would bring, the overwhelming majority of people will choose to do the right thing and then find opportunities in the new reality to better their lives and the lives of those around them. As Canadians, Albertans, and Edmontonians, we’re too entrepreneurial to let the opportunity a crisis income provides pass us by.”

What is Crisis Income?

An income provided to all Canadians, without conditions. It acts in two ways: it provides economic relief for those in vulnerable positions and encourages economic activity where people are faring better.

”The one fundamental defining characteristic of a basic income of any type is that is must be unconditional. There is no requirement to work or seek work, or to have worked a certain number of hours in the recent past.” (Basic Income for Canadians, Evelyn Forget p.11)

Why not just give businesses loans to get through?

An estimated 23% of businesses have already ceased or suspended operations during this pandemic, and the better we are at flattening the curve, the larger that number is likely to become. Small and medium businesses in Canada provide about 70% of employment in this country, and burdening them with debt won’t make recovery an easy task. It may make it impossible. So in addition to people having to make hard decisions about feeding their family or paying their rent, there won’t be as many jobs to return to when we can stop social distancing efforts. The combination of a pandemic and the dramatic devaluing of oil has provided the active ingredients for devastation in Alberta.

What about our current supports?

Most current supports are directive, require workers to come from specific circumstance, and often rely on either a record of employment or past tax-filer data. In this unprecedented crisis, many people won’t have the necessary paperwork or would test out of supports based on past income. This would include oil and gas workers, paramedical practices and many others. But people in these areas will still need help. Toss in circumstances like hospitality industries where tips play a large role in income, or self-employment and reportable incomes don’t come close to measuring up even when they’re allowed to apply for benefits they wouldn’t normally be eligible for.

A crisis income can replace piecemeal approaches that miss people and require massive administration efforts to sustain:

“One further characteristic is consistent with the way basic income is being discussed in Canada; basic income is not a replacement for all other social expenditure. We still require basic public infrastructure like transport and water, public health insurance and education. Some people with disabilities still require additional supports beyond income, and people with particular challenges, such as precariously housed people with mental health issues, still require dedicated programs that have been shown to be effective. Basic income is not designed to meet the specific needs of these relatively small number of Canadians. “ (Basic Income for Canadians, Evelyn Forget p. 12)

Are other governments supporting a crisis income modeled after basic income?

Learn more:

Basic Income: Some Policy Options For Canada

A Basic Income For Alberta

Costing a National Guaranteed Basic Income Using the Ontario Basic Income Model

In the media:

A universal basic income could help counter COVID-19's econoIn normal times, universal basic income is a bad idea. But it’s the wisest solution for COVID-19 economic strain (Globe and Mail)mic damage (CBC)

On COVID-19, Ottawa needs to be much bigger and bolder (CBC)

Universal basic income can protect those in need (Financial Times)

Stop talking about basic income and do it (Ottawa Citizen)

Feds Miss Chance To Test Universal Basic Income Amid Crisis (HuffPost)

Why more than 500 political figures and academics globally have called for universal basic income in the fight against coronavirus (Independent)

Canada needs crisis basic income now (Maclean’s)

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