Canada Could Abolish Poverty With A Basic Income

A homeless man sleeps in a doorway in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, Dec. 19, 2016.

Poverty, especially child poverty, is a huge black mark in my hometown of Surrey and in British Columbia and Canada at large. We know that poverty leads to poor health and social outcomes for children in later years. Poverty is essentially a waste of human resources. It ensures that a segment of the population will not be living up to their potential.

Thousands of people are forced to take low-wage jobs with no benefits or pension to pay the bills. They are unable to pursue their true passion in life, whether that is to go to school or start a new company or volunteer in the community.

Who knows how many future Nobel Prize winners were too exhausted to invent a cure for cancer or AIDS or find ways to clean up pollution because they were trapped working two jobs just to pay for inflated rents and the necessities of life just to survive. To even dream of owning a house is pretty much out of the question now for most Metro Vancouver locals unless you move out to the middle of nowhere.

What is worse is that most employment and labour contracts are written in what I like to call a master-and-slave relationship. The employee has limited rights and protections. Why do you think a company like Walmart is so successful in North America? The politicians and decision-makers are essentially bought and sold by corporatist lobbyists which makes it even harder for the average worker to get ahead.

The basic income would be an efficient way to eliminate poverty, as the poor could simply buy what they need.

This was essentially the recent situation in B.C., due in part to the province having no caps on political donations. No wonder trying to ban big money in politics became a huge election issue in the last provincial election. The fact that it was even an problem is a sad reflection on the state of affairs in provincial politics. Are the politicians representing the people or the private corporations? Sometimes I wonder.

So, what is the solution to this rising poverty and income inequality?

I shared with a friend that if the government was serious about wiping out poverty, they should just transfer sufficient funds to the bottom 25 per cent of income earners. As your income increases, you receive less of a benefit. The government can start taxing corporations and the rich earning over a quarter of a million per year to fund this poverty elimination program. Someone once told me that there is something like a dozen people in the world that control maybe half the world’s wealth. Great! Time to do some serious redistribution.

Unfortunately, my friend was not convinced by this plan. He stated that giving free money to the poor would make them lazy and they may blow their money on drugs and alcohol and there would be no incentive for them to work.

A homeless man tries to keep warm near a steam vent in the bone chilling winter temperatures of -13 degrees Celsius in downtown Toronto.

This happens to be a societal stereotype which conservatives often use to block any such progressive measures. Using that logic, the ultra-rich kids who inherit money from their ultra-rich parents would also be lazy and unproductive and not contribute to society and be drug and alcohol addicts.

So maybe if we are not going to give money to the poor kids, then maybe we should not give money to the rich kids either.

Maybe we should ban the ultra-rich parents from giving free money to their children. It’s only fair, don’t you think?

Why should some kids be born with a silver spoon in their mouth, while other kids are born hungry?

I am being sarcastic, however, either we seriously address the issue of income inequality in our society, or we don’t.

So, how about a universal basic income instead? This may garner support from all segments of society, as everyone would benefit.

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Finland, Ontario and maybe B.C. are moving towards a basic income for everyone. It may be the solution we can all agree on that will bring some more financial equality for our people and the province.

Poverty costs British Columbia billions each year due to increases in crime, health care, and social services, as well as lost productivity. It makes fiscal, economic, and social sense, therefore, for B.C. to adopt a universal basic income for everyone.

The benefits of this program are numerous, including:

It would force employers to raise wages above the basic income threshold, which would, in effect, eliminate jobs that keep people in a cycle of perpetual poverty.

The basic income can be administered through the federal income tax system.

There would be no need for welfare offices.

The basic income would carry less stigma. It would be no different than receiving a federal GST cheque or Child Tax Benefit.

The basic income will create a sense of common citizenship and financial security in Canada where the population at large recognizes and acknowledges the need to assist the neediest, vulnerable, and marginalized among us.

The basic income would be tax-free.

The basic income would be an efficient way to eliminate poverty, as the poor could simply buy what they need. This would stimulate the economy.

The Canada Revenue Agency can calculate a monthly benefit based on the previous year’s income tax return, if you want to peg it to income.

Canada already has a type of universal basic income for seniors with the CPP, OAS, and GIS.

The basic income will create a sense of common citizenship and financial security in Canada where the population at large recognizes and acknowledges the need to assist the neediest, vulnerable, and marginalized among us.

A country as rich as Canada should ensure that everyone, including the poor, can live with dignity as well.

Alex Sangha is an award-winning social worker and author based in Surrey, B.C.. For more information, check out http://alexsangha.com

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Author: Alex Sangha