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Basic Income Guarantee - an Equitable Solution for Poverty

Op-Ed by Marie Burge

Thursday, August 15, 2019

The first in a two part series on Basic Income Guarantee. Here Marie clarifies what Basic Income Guarantee is and situates it in the current (2019) decisions in the PEI Legislative Assembly.

Submitted by Marie Burge

Basic Income Guarantee (BIG), as a public policy and program, is designed to respond to the belief that all people have the collective right to an income which allows them to live in good health and with dignity.

 The PEI Working Group for a Livable Income works on Basic Income Guarantee (BIG) as its central long-term program. Our work has involved consultations with the PEI Community, lobbying public decision-makers and maintaining contact with the national movements for Basic Income Guarantee. Meanwhile we give close attention to the many ongoing conditions of low income in Prince Edward Island.

This is a particularly crucial time for a serious discussion of Basic Income Guarantee. As always, our Working Group expects to see BIG as a central concern of all public policy makers. Since we began our specific basic income work in 2013, we have met with and engaged all four PEI political parties in our conversations and learnings. Across the country and around the world Basic Income Guarantee endorsement comes from across the political spectrum from the moderate right to the left. For academics and communities, concerned about the good of all people, BIG is a much-needed answer.

On Thursday, July 11, 2019 the Legislative Assembly of PEI provided the Working Group and all Islanders with reasons to hope for new directions. The Assembly gave unanimous assent to a motion which was generated by an all-party collaboration to form a three-party Special Committee of the Legislative Assembly to research and hold consultations on the reality of poverty in PEI. The final reslution of the motion is especially significant as a major leap forward: “BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Committee report back to the Legislative Assembly within twelve months with recommendations regarding the creation of a fully costed Basic Income Guarantee pilot for Prince Edward Island”.

Members of the Legislature are aware that the new special committee will be able to build on the work already done on the causes and effects of poverty. Also there is considerable knowledge and hopefulness in the community about the viability of Basic Income Guarantee. What many people in the community already know is that BIG is a government ensured unconditional payment, regardless of work status or any other condition. It ensures that no one’s income will fall below the level necessary to meet their most basic needs, that is, below the “poverty line”. It is important to note that bringing people up to a “poverty line” is a major improvement, but it is still poverty. However with BIG no one is destitute. All people have enough for just basic living. When a BIG model is in place and working, there is room to advocate for more needs to be considered as basic.

It has been proven many times over that when people receive a guaranteed basic income there is relief from the stress of trying to “make ends meet”. They are noticably more positive about life and work. BIG creates incentive to work and to create new sources of income. People are optimistic and want to continue to better their lives. The BIG program allows for reasonable personal earnings to top up their basic income payment. There is a cap on the amount of top-up, a threshold at which point the BIG payment is reduced in proportion to the amount received from other income sources.

BIG is an efficient, effective, and equitable solution to poverty which promotes individual freedom and leaves the beneficial aspects of other policies and programs in place. Moreover, BIG creates or restores to the whole community a sense of general well-being because more people are content when they, their family, and neighbours experience: fairness and equity; inclusion; having a voice; living in healthy communities; living productive lives.

Marie Burge, is with Cooper Institute, one of the organizations belonging to the PEI Working Group for a Livable Income founded in 2004.

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