Backing basic income
By Sue Tiffin
The Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridgedistrict health unit’s board of health has unanimously supported aletter from the Simcoe-Muskoka district health unit that calls forthe Canada Emergency Response Benefit to roll into a guaranteed basicmonthly income for all Canadians “during the COVID-19 pandemic andbeyond.”
The May 20 letter is addressed to PrimeMinister Justin Trudeau Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland andMinister of Finance Bill Morneau. Signed by Anita Dubeau chairboard of health Simcoe-Muskoka district health unit the letter wasalso circulated to Premier Doug Ford Simcoe and Muskoka MPs and MPPsas well as municipal councils the Association of Local Public HealthAgencies Ontario Public Health Association and Ontario boards ofhealth.
The letter commends the federal government for “economicmeasures that have been put into place to support Canadians duringthis unprecedented time of the COVID-19 pandemic” which hasincluded measures such as the CERB the Canada Emergency StudentBenefit and the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy. A basic income wouldaddress gaps the SMDHU says for Canadians unable to access theprograms who are “vulnerable to household food insecurity and thenegative consequences of income insecurity and poverty such asinadequate or unstable housing and poorer mental and physicalhealth including chronic diseases.”
It notes that even prior to theemployment hardships caused by the pandemic in 2017-2018approximately 4.4 million Canadians reported being food insecureincluding 1.2 million children under the age of 18. The SMDHU saidbasic income pilots in Canada have resulted in “promisingfindings” and references the Ontario Basic Income Pilotimplemented in 2018 in three cities and terminated in 2019 by theincoming government.
“Moving forward during and followingthe COVID-19 pandemic is an opportune time for the federal governmentto take action to evolve the CERB into a basic income” reads theletter. “This would provide income security to all Canadians duringthe economic challenges of the pandemic itself the post-pandemicrecovery and into the future. This is particularly pertinent giventhe dramatic shifts in the labour market in recent decades such thatfull-time permanent employment is no longer the norm. The currentCERB has helped demonstrate the logistical feasibility of deliveringa basic income and it could be readily evolved into an ongoing basicincome for anyone who falls below a certain income floor.”
The letter also makes note of “keyCanadian initiatives that demonstrate the positive impact of basicincome-like programs on health and well-being [which] include the OldAge Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement through Canada’spublic pension system the Canada Child Benefit and the NewfoundlandPoverty Reduction Strategy.”
At a June 18 meeting held viaconference call the HKPRDHU board of health endorsed the letter twodays after the federal government announced an eight-week extensionof the CERB which provides $2000 monthly to those who qualify andwas established soon after the initial measures put in placethroughout Canada to flatten the curve of the spread of COVID-19.
Dr. Lynn Noseworthy HKPRDHU medicalofficer of health in supporting the endorsement said now “is avery opportune time for us to rally around this because COVID-19 ispointing to the disparities that people face in their lives. We findthat when we’re doing case and contact follow-up. Some don’t haveanyone to assist them when in self-isolation at home to get themgroceries to get their medication that kind of thing. So it reallyshows like the 1918 influenza pandemic did it affected people whowere more marginalized then [COVD-19] is affecting people who aremore marginalized now.”
One person in the meeting questionedthe cost of such a program.
“When you look at the supports thatare currently in place for people who have income issues [thegovernment] pays for a variety of supports” she said after themeeting in questions from the media. “If you look at the cost ofdoing all those things versus providing basic income to individualsand families the benefit is greater [providing basic income] in thelong term. They have better health they end up getting jobs and theyhave more security in their lives. They also have fewer mental illnesses; they’renot worrying about the next paycheque.”
Noseworthy who has been in the role ofmedical officer of health for the past 16years said she had gone into public health after seeing as ageneral practitioner people struggling with health issuesrelated to their life circumstances.
Doug Elmslie board of health chairsaid he thought there seemed to be more acceptance of the idea of abasic income guarantee now with morereceptive people in the federal government than in thepast.
“My view on it is that I think it’sa worthwhile thing to support” he said. “I thinkwe’ve been faced with pov erty and trying to do something withpoverty for some 4000 years and what we’ve doneclearly isn’t working and we just continue to throw money atthe problem and throw our support behind OntarioWorks and social housing and this kind of thing andkeeping people basi cally with a stipend making itdifficult for them to get out of the poverty loop. I’d like tosee it at least tried so we can see whether it will make adifference in people’s lives and whether they will be able tobreak these pov erty cycles.” Later he added:“Trying something differ ent can’t hurt us. What we’re doingisn’t working so let’s try something else.”
The HKPRDHU region includes Lindsaywhich was one of four communities involved in theOntario Basic Income Pilot Project. It was intendedto run for three years but was cancelled in its firstyear in March 2019.
Noseworthy said the project had seenparticipants return to school set up businesses and buybasic necessities to eat better.