Monday, 14 March 2016

Mincome is the way forward

If you didn’t catch it, there was a very significant paragraph in the last Ontario budget which bears our attention.

While the fiscally conservative are bemoaning the state of the Ontario deficit, the radical revisioning of social service supports in Ontario was largely overlooked.

The budget said, “One area of research that will inform the path to comprehensive reform will be the evaluation of a Basic Income pilot. The pilot project will test a growing view at home and abroad that a basic income could build on the success of minimum wage policies and increases in child benefits by providing more consistent and predictable support in the context of today’s dynamic labour market. The pilot would also test whether a basic income would provide a more efficient way of delivering income support, strengthen the attachment to the labour force, and achieve savings in other areas, such as health care and housing supports. The government will work with communities, researchers and other stakeholders in 2016 to determine how best to design and implement a Basic Income pilot.”

In other words, Ontario will be doing the basic research for a system to replace the current broken social assistance system with a “mincome” system. Mincome is a general term which means that every person or family unit receives a guaranteed amount of money, higher than the pittance of social assistance. That amount is gradually clawed back as work income increases.

Canada has had one mincome experiment, in the 1970's, in Dauphin, Manitoba. Under the Liberal Trudeau government and the NDP Schryer government, the mincome experiment ran for five years. The election of the Lyon Conservatives and the Clark Progressive Conservatives terminated the program. Even the data was not released for twenty years. But by 2011, the data had been analysed and the results were clear. Mincome made an amazing difference.

The only negative effect observed was that employment dipped slightly, which was largely attributed to mothers staying home longer with children and people returning to school to upgrade their skills. Positive results included a lower dropout rate in the school system. Hospital visits dropped 8.5 percent, with fewer incidents of work-related injuries, and fewer emergency room visits from car accidents and domestic abuse. In addition, there was a reduction in rates of psychiatric hospitalization, and in the number of mental illness-related consultations with doctors.

For decades we have operated under the neoliberal ideology that no one has a right to a government benefit unless they have proved themselves to be deserving or worthy or have earned it. Mincome tosses that outdated idea out the window and rightly so. Our assumptions about poverty and government benefits are about to be turned on their head. Simply put, mincome works. People are better off.

For all the whining and complaining of the fiscal conservatives, this will have a beneficial effect on our community and our province. I’m looking forward to it because it’s the right thing to do.

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.