Voting for food security: what is a basic income floor?

From listening to numerous debates and discussions on living wages and from creating budgets based on various incomes, I can absolutely appreciate how difficult it would be to survive on a minimum wage income. Especially as a parent with dependents.

Typically, it isn’t just that you make minimum wage. You may not get enough hours to meet full-time requirements with one employer, so you need to work a few jobs to make enough money. You probably work more hours than you would if you had one full-time job. You may not be able to spend much time at home because you’re working. You have difficulty making ends meet because there are so many costs in life: shelter, clothing, food, your kids’ needs, aging parent’s needs, internet, phone, transportation. Life is complicated and complex, and having to struggle and constantly worry about meeting absolutely basic needs just makes everything more challenging.

As part of Food Secure Canada’s EatThinkVote campaign (Canada’s next federal election is October 19, 2015), they are pushing for a Canada with zero hunger. Their policy proposal to achieve this is to establish a national basic income. In short, this means that anyone falling below a certain income (designated poverty line) would be topped up to the basic income. The idea is that this would positively impact the mental and physical health of those who would have otherwise fallen below the poverty line.

I had never heard of the concept of the basic income floor before and was even more surprised to read that an experiment with a guaranteed annual income had been done from 1974-1979 in Dauphin, Manitoba. That’s almost 40 years ago! It was called MINCOME (a smash-up of “minimum income”). Everyone in the small town was eligible to participate in the experiment; benefits were dependent on factors such as family size and whether there were other income sources. Unfortunately, there was no report produced at the end of this field experiment. There have been subsequent analyses by universities and others that try to assess the costs and benefits of this experiment. The greatest benefit seemed to be for those who were low income but did not qualify for other established social security schemes and for those who were self-employed with no guarantee of income from year to year (agricultural base).

I think this is such an interesting concept but there would be lots of details to be worked out, like what exactly would the designated poverty line be? Would it be indexed to the cost of living in different areas of the country? What would be the most effective way of rolling out this type of policy?

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