The welfare system, supposedly designed to be a safety net for citizens, is stretched to its limits and is no longer meeting its citizen’s needs. Therefore, the need for innovative solutions has never been more pressing.
Universal Basic Income (UBI) is not a new concept; it has been gaining traction as a solution to the increasing financial hardships faced by many Canadians since the 1970s. While it may sound radical to some, the idea is relatively straightforward and accessible.
Under a UBI program, citizens receive a guaranteed, unconditional cash transfer from the government. This income is designed to cover the basic necessities of life, such as food, clothing, and shelter.
It would not be designed to fully economically support someone but rather to decrease financial stress on Canadians.
Canada has recently taken a step towards implementing a UBI. A pilot program launched in Quebec on Jan. 1, 2023 aims to test the effectiveness of a basic income program as a means of addressing the economic challenges faced by many citizens.
The question remains as to whether the lessons learned from this pilot will actually be used to reshape the nation’s social welfare system. It’s worth noting that a similar program in Ontario was cancelled in 2018, leaving many with doubts about the actual future implementation of UBI in Canada. When the pilot was cancelled, the Ontario government indicated they were going to utilize the money to focus on “more proven approaches,” although no specific approaches were determined.
I know what you’re thinking—if the government gives money away, then no one will want to work!
Who wants to work in the current labour market anyways?!
Those navigating the labour market have most likely noticed the shift of less full-time work and an increase in part-time positions available, a trend known as the “gig-economy”.
By solely providing part-time hours to multiple people it eliminates a business’ responsibility to provide benefits.
Citizens are left managing multiple schedules and multiple jobs in an attempt to make ends meet. But people won’t quit working with the introduction of a UBI.
The likelihood of someone choosing to not work at all if they receive a basic income is fairly low. In fact, part-time work has been shown to increase by at least 17 per cent. What’s more likely to come from the implementation of a UBI program is an improvement in health and quality of life.
When people are not constantly fighting to survive, they have the freedom to invest in their education, become more meaningfully involved in their communities, participate in more leisure activities, and seek better employment opportunities or start small businesses, all of which would increase economic activity, generate higher tax revenues and foster economic growth.
Implementing a universal basic income program across Canada is no small feat by any means, but the potential benefits are substantial and would alleviate a significant amount of the stress on our current welfare programs.
So, how would it work?
One approach for implementation could involve streamlining current social welfare programs and subsidies. By consolidating these programs into one comprehensive UBI initiative, the government could reduce the costs associated with our current welfare state which historically costs the government billions of dollars.
A UBI program would not require criteria for eligibility, aside from an initial age. The aim is to provide financial assistance to all citizens, and this should be done without excluding those who may not fit the traditional definition of “poverty.” which is currently measured by the Market Basket Measure.
Okay, but wouldn’t that result in taxes increasing?
No! Canada can fund a basic income with little or no impact on most working Canadians through contributions from our financial sector, fewer tax breaks for large companies and fewer subsidies for the wealthiest Canadians.
I know many individuals feel that a UBI would be taken advantage of by citizens, but how have we gotten to a state where basic human rights being met is seen as an advantage?
Even the implementation of a UBI program set to 75 per cent of the poverty line would not end poverty in Canada, however, it would reduce poverty by 50 per cent.
As a leader in human development (HDI), you would think that we could better care for our citizens, communities and environment, rather than solely the economy.
The pilot program in Quebec is a step in the right direction, and I believe it is an opportunity to potentially redefine the Canadian social welfare system. The implementation of a UBI would alleviate financial stress for citizens, potentially reduce the oversaturated reliance on the welfare state and improve our economy.
As a society, we must acknowledge that our current system is failing the majority of citizens and look forward to a more inclusive and economically vibrant future for all Canadians.