Book celebrates the potential of a basic income

Study after study continues to provide mounting evidence that UBI works despite politicians obstructionists positions due to pollical pressures. Will UBI prevail?

By Deirdre Pike and Tom Cooper

Two years ago, the Ontario Basic Income Pilot was cancelled.

Despite promises to allow the social policy experiment to run to completion and study the results, the newly elected Ford government went back on its word. That callous political decision threw the those who volunteered for the three-year program into chaos.

Yet, out of that heartbreak emerged stories of fortitude and hope. Some of those stories have now been captured in the pages of a powerful new book called “The Case for Basic Income — Freedom, Security, Justice.”

Dedicated to the “4,000 courageous people who took a chance on the Ontario Basic Income Pilot, and whose good faith hopes were shattered when a Progressive Conservative government arbitrarily and prematurely cancelled it,” the index is packed with names of Hamiltonians who signed on or were instrumental in advocacy for the pilot’s development and continuance.

Authors Elaine Power and Jamie Swift interviewed participants from Hamilton and Lindsay, recounting how the pilot transformed lives and sparked dreams.

While the book was started before the pandemic, its conclusion during this anxious time makes it all the more relevant. The foreword by Dr. Danielle Martin, a family physician and founder of Canadian Doctors for Medicare, describes the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), as an example of a strong social program, underpinned with “simplicity and decency of spirit.”

Martin argues a universal basic income in that same spirit would offer all Canadians the same assurance of being able to make it through uncertain times as CERB did.

When it was announced in early 2017, the Basic Income Pilot made international headlines as the biggest income security experiment of its kind. It was intended to run for three years.

Participants in Hamilton and Brantford, Lindsay and Thunder Bay were chosen randomly following an application process. Selected participants were people living on low incomes and could receive $17,000 to $24,000 a year for those three years, depending on family type and disability status.

Could Basic Income stabilize housing, improve health, support mental well-being and move people into the jobs of the future?

When the project commenced, around half of those chosen had been subsisting on distressingly inadequate social assistance programs; many were poorly housed, had insufficient diets, and didn’t have the resources to break the cycle of poverty.

Lance Dingman, whose story was recounted in “The Case for Basic Income,” had the opportunity to purchase food for his freezer. For Alana Baltzer, Basic Income made it possible to get a new winter jacket.

Hamilton resident Tim Button, who had suffered a workplace injury and fallen into poverty, became a symbol of the potential of Basic Income when a reporter from The Associated Press interviewed him. The article that ran in dozens of U.S. newspapers described the program as “making a huge difference” for Button and other participants.

As former participant Michael Hampson (who died in early 2020) noted after the program ended, “Basic Income cleansed my wounds. Healed me, refreshed my spirit and shifted everything.”

The pilot’s impact wasn’t just about subjective improvements.

Almost everybody who participated felt they benefitted in some way. A report from McMaster University showed that physical health and mental well-being, housing, diets and feelings of optimism all improved.

Premier Doug Ford, Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod and other detractors claimed that giving people a Basic Income would make them lazy. The results from the pilot showed the opposite. Pilot participants became more engaged in their communities, went back to school, upgraded skills and began looking for better jobs. Eighty per cent of the participants reported that while receiving a Basic Income, they were more motivated to look for work.

Many of those former participants are now some of Canada’s most vocal advocates in the push for a national Basic Income program.

Last summer, Canadian Sen. Kim Pate encouraged her colleagues in the upper house to endorse Basic Income as a response to the pandemic. She called upon former pilot participant, Humans of Basic Income founder Jessie Golem to share her story with the senators about how the pilot transformed her life.

Power and Swift’s book provides a window into how a Basic Income can inspire Canadians to dream. Thursday night some of those former participants, community advocates and political leaders will celebrate the book’s release at a virtual launch. Former premier Kathleen Wynne, under whose government the Ontario BI pilot was launched, will be present along with Leah Gazan, an NDP MP who launched a private members’ bill earlier this year in support of a national BI program.

Most importantly, many of the courageous participants in Ontario’s BI pilot will be adding their voices for the case of Basic Income, having tasted the freedom, security and justice it brought for them.


About the Authors: Deirdre Pike is a senior social planner at the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton. Tom Cooper is the director of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction. Please join us for this important book launch and discussion to hear how you can add your voice to keeping basic income an option in Canada. 

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