On Basic Income: A great idea but not as simple as some may think


Amir Farahi, Executive Director of the relatively new London Institute, posted a piece in Our London paper regarding the popular idea of Guaranteed Basic Income. On a very broad level, I agree with Amir that this kind of guarantee is needed for our most vulnerable including those who face precarious work, mental illness, and lack of affordable housing. As Amir shared in his post, there have been some experiments in our nations past but, If I may be so bold, implementing a GBI may not be as simple as  “fixing it”. I agree with GBI and believe we should leave no one behind, but a simplistic approach results in complex problems.

Before diving headlong into converting every program that supports those in poverty to a basic income we first have to consider what goes along with those programs. Are support personnel still going to be needed? What if someone receives a GBI but has mobility issue? What happens if they receive this money, but there’s an addiction issue that needs serious support and intervention? There are important issues to unpack and unlike Amir I think it is a complex issue. To suggest it isn’t perhaps is uninformed.

A very real issue could be if future governments decide to change the funding for base income. We in Ontario remember the Harris government cuts to various social programs and still see the effects resonating through systems today. We must also be aware that there is a difference between basic needs and basic income. Basic needs are about food and shelter. Basic income must allow individuals to thrive and lift themselves out of poverty as opposed to creating another poverty trap as our system often does today.

We must also be aware of the sometimes large inflationary costs of living that happen. If we look at the price of food and how much it has fluctuated over the last ten years then a system of basic income must be very fluid in reacting to changing market conditions. If it is slow and unresponsive, then the very thing that GBI hopes to address becomes a hindrance to those we try to help.

I have to argue with Amir’s point “It’s time to stop the danger of subtle manipulations by our governments, special-interest groups, organizations, agencies that are perpetuating the problem and not actually fixing it.”. This is a very cynical view and assumes that there is some zeitgeist amongst those that work with vulnerable populations to perpetuate a system of inequity. Many of the people Amir includes in his criticism, especially at the agency level, see and hear the daily struggle of those they serve. To suggest that they are working counter to “fixing” the problem is at best cynical and at worst insulting. It’s easy to say “Fix it” but much, much harder to create the conditions for people to overcome and thrive in difficult circumstances.

I do agree with Amir though that guaranteed income if thoughtfully done, can decrease overlap and increase efficiency while providing dignity for those in difficult circumstances. But like everything else we must be prepared to pay for this program and to be flexible in our approach to ensuring funding. Providing someone with a serious health, mental health, or social challenge can do this, but we also need to ensure that the supports for them to thrive and continue to do so over the long term have to be in place as well.