When I have spoken in the past about the need to explore the implementation of a Universal Living Income in British Columbia, it was through the lens of planning for future automation of the workforce and poverty reduction. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has re-fueled my desire to explore it more seriously.
What is a Living Income?
A basic income is a public government program that delivers a regular guaranteed income payment or basic living stipend on an individual basis without requiring proof the individual is actively seeking work.
Basic income comes in two basic forms:
Means-Tested Basic Income: In its means-tested form, a basic income is paid only to those whose income from other sources falls below a predetermined threshold, but is not contingent on recipients’ willingness to work. It is often referred to as “guaranteed minimum income”.
Universal Basic Income: Universal basic Income is a basic income paid to all, irrespective of income from other sources. The unconditional basic income is often referred to as “universal basic income” or a “citizen’s’ wage”.
How would a Universal Living Income reduce the spread of infectious Diseases?
It will likely be years before we unpack all the outcomes and situations affecting the spread of COVID-19. I anticipate one of the outcomes we’ll discover is how income insecurity affects employees and business owners' work attendance decisions when experiencing illness symptoms.
“Do I go to work so I can pay my rent or do I stay home to avoid infecting everyone at my place of employment and on my way to and from work (bus/skytrain/elevator)?”
A Universal Living Income will ensure that everybody has enough money and resources to remain at home or self-isolate when necessary. It will remove the difficult decision of whether to go to work in order to pay for basic shelter and living costs or stay home and not be able to pay for household necessities.
Other benefits of Universal Living Income
Living Income projects, such as the 3 year pilot project in Dauphin, Manitoba, have resulted in multiple economic and social benefits:
- Recipients are lifted out of poverty, allowing them to pay for adequate housing, nutrition, medical and mental health costs. Social stigmas are eliminated. The spin-off benefits from this alone are huge:
-Well-fed children have better learning outcomes, resulting in higher graduation rates, lower teen pregnancies and a more skilled workforce;
-Drug, alcohol and domestic abuse are reduced as the pressures of poverty are reduced, lessening the reliance on our policing and emergency responders;
-Hospital visits and reliance on our public healthcare system system are reduced. The 1970 Dauphin MB 3 year pilot project resulted in a whopping 8.5% reduction in hospital visits!
- A living income acts as a pre-planning, proactive measure against job loss caused in part by the ever increasing automation of our job markets, in addition to catastrophic events such as a global pandemic. It provides financial stability to allow those affected by job loss to attend professional retraining programs, start new businesses, volunteer more hours, and spend more time with family (reducing daycare costs).
As the world we live in shifts, we will need to prepare to do things differently, think differently and ensure decisions are made based on data, evidence and science. I think it’s time we explored a Universal Basic Income for BC to future-proof our economy and our communities against pandemics, poverty and automation.