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Letter: Canadians need a guaranteed annual income

I write regarding The Telegram editorial, “Basic income,” Nov. 2, which examines the progress of basic income projects in various parts of Canada and the pros and cons of such a program.

While Pat Cullen, a columnist for The Compass, has called for a basic income, I am advocating for a guaranteed annual income so that Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador can eliminate most, if not, all poverty.

Our provincial Poverty Reduction Strategy officials, and our federal and provincial elected representatives, should be asking how we can improve and modernize our social safety net.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the 13 provincial/territorial premiers, including Dwight Ball and his Liberals, should implement a one-stop guaranteed annual income scheme for Canada’s most disadvantaged or vulnerable residents — people with disabilities, the working poor, low or fixed income seniors, mental health consumers and families, the unemployed, the underemployed and the homeless.

Some people believe governments cannot reduce or eliminate poverty. On the contrary; we can’t afford to not to.

A 1984 book called “Canadian Churches and Social Justice,” by John R. Williams, suggests governments have basically three ways to help those “in need”: progressive taxation through tax credits, like the disability tax, family and seniors tax credits, and GST rebates; public services and social agencies, such as MCP, the provincial drug program, subsidized housing, income supplements — CPP, EI, OAS, senior GIS, income support, special needs program, Student Aid; and minimum wage laws.

Unfortunately, these initiatives have had little, if any effect in combating poverty.

As for the private sector’s non-profit community, religious and social organizations, the best they can offer is Band-Aid solutions like food banks, soup kitchens, Christmas hampers and so on. While they are helpful to those people in need, it doesn’t eliminate or reduce poverty.

The latest statistics in Canada show that there are 4.9 million women, men and children living in poverty. According to the provincial government’s Poverty Reduction Strategy progress report, June 2014, there are approximately 27,000 low-income residents here.

For many families and individuals, social assistance is their primary source of income. They and people in other low-income groups are struggling to pay for rent, heating, food and other basic living necessities, and in many cases, their income is wholly inadequate. For others, income supports provides a “top-up” to low wages, Employment Insurance and other income sources.

Some people believe governments cannot reduce or eliminate poverty. On the contrary; we can’t afford to not to. In her Sept. 27 column, Pat Cullen makes a excellent point:

“Critics dismiss basic income as too expensive to implement,” she writes. “Rob Rainer and Kelly Ernst of the Basic Income Canada Network disagree. Writing in the Toronto Star Feb. 27, 2014, they claimed national implementation could cost around $32 billion — much cheaper than the $72 billion to $86 billion which ‘a 2008 study estimated as the price Canadians pay for health care, criminal justice and lost productivity costs associated with poverty. Poverty’s demand on health care alone may now approach $40 billion per year.’”

Recently, many groups and individuals have called for either a guaranteed annual income or a basic income in Canada, including former senator Hugh Segal, the NDP in Saskatchewan and P.E.I., the federal Green Party, Liberals, Canadian communities, and even the Canadian Medical Association.

Cullen writes: “poverty leads to hunger and bad nutrition. Both kill and they are very costly killers.”

Poverty can also lead to mental illness, especially depression.

The Telegram editorial noted: “The idea behind a basic income is that stable, livable funding makes it easier for people to escape poverty, find safe housing and employment or employment training, and maintain a balanced diet and good health, thus costing the social safety net less in the long run.”

A guaranteed annual income for Canadians is a logical, practical alternative to the current patchwork of overlapping federal, provincial and municipal social programs. The guaranteed annual income could be important in another sense, too, in that it could eliminate the bureaucratic divisions and duplication between various levels of government.

So, Justin Trudeau, Andrew Scheer, Jagmeet Singh, Elizabeth May and Premier Dwight Ball, let’s have a guaranteed annual income for all disadvantaged Canadians.

 

Edward Sawdon

St. John’s

 

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