The Government of Nunavut is looking to investigate the costs and benefits of universal basic income in the territory
The Issue: Universal basic income
We Say: Well worth studying
When the GN announces they’ll be studying a topic, we often groan and question how many different ways over the years we can possibly examine something before we make any headway on the problem itself.
However, the recent discussions around the Department of Family Services’ request for proposals to carry out a feasibility study on guaranteed basic income in the territory has the opposite effect, though the wait will be a long one with the RFP still open to tenders.
Nevertheless, a universal income project has the potential to change the face of income inequality across the territory.
Nunavut’s Anti-Poverty Secretariat first recommended guaranteed basic income as an alternative to the current income support model in 2013. At face value, there are no downsides to investment in this research.
Universal or guaranteed basic income is a social support model based on replacing income assistance and other programs with a (usually) monthly amount of money to ensure that people have enough to live on, regardless of their work status. It gets more complicated, but only on an administrative level – those who need the money are guaranteed it, and those who already earn enough to live moderately could, for example, be opted out of the program or have the extra income taken off their paycheck as tax – a negative income tax. There are many ways to balance the system, and many have been studied and discussed at length since the 1970s, when the first basic income project in the country was piloted by the Government of Canada in Winnipeg, Dauphin and rural Manitoba.
The original experiment was set up to determine whether people would still seek jobs when their needs were met by the government. The results were mixed, as the experiment had a fixed end date so many participants did not exit the workforce, but groups that benefitted most were single mothers and young families who have to consider the cost/benefit of paying for childcare when seeking work outside the home.
One of the greatest criticisms of such a system is that it encourages people to be ‘lazy’ and to live off the dole, however, such broad strokes should not be applied, especially in a region with such diversity between people’s ability and desire to work and the scarcity of jobs they are qualified for.
When many of the high-paying jobs that would guarantee a Nunavummiuq’s ability to earn a reasonable living go to southerners or have already been snapped up by folks looking to occupy a chair for their next 30 years, it becomes less a question of laziness and more a question of choice, and whether one even exists.
Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main pointed out that criticism over how the $2,000 per month CERB payments have been spent by Nunavummiut show there are misconceptions about the realities of social assistance and its beneficiaries.
“We have the $2,000 benefit being used to explain increased substance abuse and crime. I’m very skeptical of the one-sided analysis of an issue like that. The critics of CERB – do they know if food insecurity has decreased? Do they know if children are being better fed in the morning?” Main asked. “It’s a great example of how you can’t reduce people to an anecdote. Not everyone is a criminal or an addict.”
People are not defined by their ability to work, they are worth more than the number of hours they put into a job each week. Not having to struggle or choose which bill to put off until the next month would have a profound impact on the mental health of low-income families.
In a territory where jobs and housing are at a premium, it only makes sense to give individuals and families a fair and equitable starting point.