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?

Voting for food security: giving kids access to healthy nutritious food

Looking back on my life so far, I can point to a few pivotal moments that have really affected how my life has turned out. As the Canadian federal election really gets going (towards an election date of October 19, 2015), I am reminded of the importance of food security…and the year I started to really explore the concept of food security is one of those pivotal moments of my life.

Rewind to that pivotal week

I became involved with a community service learning program at my university, where we learned about and discussed issues that impact a specific community while volunteering with an organization within that community. During Reading Week in my second year of university, 30 students came together from across many academic disciplines to volunteer in spaces like an elementary school, a women’s transition house and an HIV/AIDS health program. Each morning, all of the university students would come together and have an incredibly thought-provoking discussion led by a community leader or faculty member. I don’t think remember specifically discussing food security during those 4 days together, but we talked a lot about issues that impact marginalized communities.

My participation in that 4.5 day project has really shaped my view of the world. It was the first time that I really remember being pushed to think in a different way. I almost feel like most of the learning that I had ever done in school up until that point was very passive; you go to school, you learn about set topics, you hang out with friends (usually people somewhat like you socioeconomically speaking) and you regurgitate content (tests, exams, projects, assignments). That week, I was exposed to a number of issues that I had known about in a cursory manner but had never discussed in such depth:

  • what does it mean to be marginalized (I actually don’t know if I even knew that word existed prior to)?
  • what do marginalized women face and how can a community support them?
  • what special issues do children who grow up in marginalized communities face?

Going through that project, I don’t think I even understood how much of an impact it would have on me. Only now, looking back, can I see the trajectory that it pushed me on. Anyways, my continued involvement with the community service learning program over a few years really educated me on appreciating each person’s life experience. You never really know what another person is going through or has gone through and how that impacts their interaction with the world. Which brings me to food security.

Fast forward to voting for food security

Food security is having access to a sufficient amount of safe and nutritious food.

A basic element that every child needs to survive is food. Without food, they cannot meet their potential. Imagine having a growling stomach all day long, every day. Your stomach could be growling for many reasons; maybe your caregivers can’t afford much food or maybe you don’t have regular access to nutritious food. I bet you’d feel tired and your main focus would be on finding something to eat. Imagine going to school in that state, every single day. Being told to sit in your seat, finish your assignment, write that test, run a few laps, don’t fall asleep…all while your stomach growls. Doesn’t that sound ridiculous? Every child should have access to enough safe and nutritious food so that they can focus on learning and growing and playing instead of on their empty stomach.

Nobody can deny that children are the future. Just biologically, this is a fact. Children will grow to be the adults of tomorrow and the adults of today will eventually die. Investing in the children of today is incredibly important. And it is truly the biggest and best investment that we can make. How these children feel, think, perceive the world will impact what our world will look like in 10, 20, 40 years. This is why we need a universal healthy national school food program for children.

How would a national school food program impact our today and our future?

Show that we, as Canada, truly value and recognize the important that food plays in our communities and in our future as a country. Encourage the adoption of a food policy that gives kids healthy and nutritious food at school. A national school food program would shape our future in a few ways:

  • immediate impact: children would have access safe nutritious food so that they can focus on learning and playing.
  • intermediate impact: children would explore what ‘healthy eating’ truly means, understand the role that food plays in their own culture as well as in society by growing a school garden, learning about food systems locally and globally, discussing issues related to food security and learning to prepare delicious culturally appropriate meals.
  • long-term impact: children would grow into adults who think critically about the world around them and can support and sustain themselves (better able to focus at school may mean more likely to succeed in society, know how to grow and cook healthy foods, understand the relationship between themselves, food and the environment). They may also be healthier, reducing negative impacts on our health care system.

You can read more about this on Food Secure Canada’s page on a national healthy school food program. This year, ask your local candidates what they think about giving kids access to healthy food and EatThinkVote.