A basic income guarantee is the most effective way to eliminate poverty

Mike Schreiner submitted the following letter to the Ministry of Community and Social Services to comment on the proposed basic income pilot project in Ontario.

Ministry of Community and Social Services
6th Floor, Hepburn Block
80 Grosvenor Street
Toronto, Ontario M7A 1E9

Dear Ministry of Community and Social Services:

A basic income guarantee (BIG) is the most effective, efficient and dignified way to eliminate poverty. The Green Party of Ontario strongly supports moving forward with the basic income pilot, a policy we have long advocated.

Income inequality is growing — the richest Canadians keep getting richer, but those with limited incomes stay the same or see their incomes decline while the cost of living increases. It is getting harder to make ends meet.

Eliminating poverty should be a top priority for the Ontario government. Everyone should have the income, resources and opportunities to fully participate in our province with dignity. 

We agree with the Honourable Hugh Segal’s statement that the cost of poverty is too high, and that “it is hard to conclude that the income support that is now available for those living in poverty is adequate in any meaningful way.” For this reason, in addition to the BIG pilot, the GPO supports calls for an immediate increase in existing support programs. Increasing Ontario Works rates for single individual to $1,320 per month and Ontario Disability Support Payment rates by at least $500 per month will help address the inadequate resources available to those currently living in poverty.

The government has a duty to reduce poverty. The BIG pilot should not be used as an excuse to delay desperately needed actions to reduce poverty now. The current income gaps in existing programs can be addressed while the pilot takes place.

We urge you to focus the pilot on eliminating poverty through a basic income guarantee. The pilot must be designed for success, and adjusted as required with poverty elimination always the end goal.

We recommend:

1. Being flexible and able to adjust if delivery of the pilot program encounters bumps in the road in order to design the best long-term program to eliminate poverty; 

2. Establishing an advisory body to oversee the pilot that includes stakeholders from various communities and backgrounds, especially those who have experienced poverty;

3. Focusing on testing outcomes for individuals and communities that prioritize key indicators of physical and mental health, food security, employment, community well-being and housing;

4. Ensuring that participation in the pilot improves and does not weaken the circumstances of any participant—care is needed to ensure that no participant is in a worse situation because of the pilot;

5. Making payments to individual adults according to individual income even for those in the same family; 

6. Setting the benefit rate at 100% of the Low Income Measure, instead of 75%, and selecting a lower tax back rate to reduce penalties for increased working income;

7. Extending program eligibility to 16 and 17 year olds who currently qualify for social assistance;

8. Locating pilot tests in different areas of the province that will represent the different experiences of our communities, including urban, rural, northern and First Nations.

9. Developing a transparent process for pilot site selection that prioritizes using Saturation Sites;

10. Developing a plan, as the BIG pilot concludes, that transitions participants into a fully functioning Basic Income Guarantee program in a way that does not reduce their benefits. Or implementing a “phase-out” plan for participants to transition out of the pilot in a way that avoids a significant deterioration of the participant’s wellbeing.

Reducing poverty is an urgent human rights and social justice issue. 

Poverty hurts us all in increased costs for health care, mental health services, social services, and law enforcement. We know poverty is a key social determinant of health and that it creates barriers to education and better employment prospects, preventing people from fully participating in our economy and our communities. 

A basic income guarantee is an important tool for addressing these issues. Thank you for taking a step in this direction. On behalf of the Green Party, I strongly encourage you to move forward with the pilot and do so with a goal to eliminate poverty. 

Regards,

Mike Schreiner
GPO leader