Over the fall, I have been running a series on my website exploring the concept of basic income. The posts have received significant public feedback, suggesting to me there is broad interest in further exploring this idea, and how we could use it as a tool to help us tackle some of the problems we are facing in B.C.
There are many different models of basic income, but at its core it’s a payment that individuals receive from their government, which does not depend on fulfilling specific criteria, such as meeting job search or monitoring requirements.
There are a number of reasons why I think it’s important that we consider the idea of basic income in B.C. First among them is our persistently high poverty rate, despite our wealth as a province. Year after year, poverty rates in B.C. remain unchanged, and higher than the national average. Sixteen per cent of adults and 20 per cent of children live in poverty today.
Certain segments of our society are hit even harder: 50 per cent of children in single-parent families, and over 50 per cent of children who live in the Central Coast region of our province, live in poverty. Part of the problem stems from the fact that income assistance rates are very low relative to the cost of living in B.C., and haven’t increased since 2007. Income assistance leaves recipients well below the poverty line, particularly families and those living in expensive urban centres. However, it’s important to note that working poverty is also a significant and growing problem: in our cities especially, a job is not enough to lift families out of poverty, due to the low minimum wage and the high cost of living.
In helping those in need, our current system of social supports has significant shortcomings. A number of people have raised the invasiveness, restrictiveness, and stigma of current income assistance programs.
There are a variety of programs that make up income assistance in B.C., with specific eligibility requirements, and a complex application process that may include interviews, home check-ins, mandatory work search periods and monitoring. Constituents routinely come to my office seeking help in navigating our complex system of social assistance, or simply in understanding which supports they are eligible for and how to apply.
In working with constituents, I have seen the essential role that community organizations play in helping people through the process of applying for social assistance: many have attested that they could not have gone through the process alone. This patchwork system of supports allows people to fall through the cracks, and places an additional burden on those most in need of support. Managing this system also carries a substantial administrative burden.
The adverse consequences that come from poverty (such as poor educational performance, poor health, and increased crime levels) also have huge social costs. Instead of continuing to manage poverty through an invasive, expensive and confusing system of supports, and continuing to deal with the associated consequences, basic income could be a tool to help us end poverty in B.C. and provide those most in need with dignity and autonomy.
In my next MLA report I will discuss some of the challenges we face in the near future, and I will outline a proposal for testing and implementing the basic income idea in B.C. If you would like to share your thoughts on the challenges facing B.C. and the role that basic income could play, I encourage you to visit my website, at www.andrewweavermla.ca, and post a comment.
Andrew Weaver is the MLA for Oak Bay – Gordon Head.