Basic income: A no-brainer in economic hard times

Lisa Macleod

"We need to do more than just help people remain mired in poverty", said Lisa MacLeod, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services, when announcing the reform plan.

In the intermediate term, the government will provide current Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program recipients with an across-the-board 1.5 per cent increase in support rates to help them with a higher cost of living.

In 100 days - by November 8 - the government will have a plan to "reform social assistance so it helps more people break the cycle of poverty, re-enter the workforce and get back on track", the news release accompanying MacLeod's presentation said.

"It is a study that has put Ontario and Canada at the forefront of thinking about an issue that has gained a lot of attention worldwide", said McKenzie, the previous Liberal government's research adviser on the project.

The government announced Tuesday it was "winding down" the project and cutting a planned three per cent increase in social assistance to 1.5 per cent - the first steps in its plan to revamp the social assistance system. Ms. MacLeod said the Ford government's new assistance program would be focused on jobs.

"So I'll be working with my colleagues... in making sure that we have an ability to integrate people back into the workforce where they can and making sure that they keep more money in their pockets". At the time, all provincial party leaders supported the experiment's quest to determine whether unconditional payments to low-income workers and people on welfare improved health, housing and educational outcomes.

With the prospect of three years of income, however, McKenzie said many participants started to make "big life decisions" and plan for the future.

The system needs "a pause", she said.

Participants in the program received an email Wednesday saying their payments would continue through August but got no further details about how the project would be phased out, said Tom Cooper, director of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction.

Participants in Ontario received up to $16,989 per year for a single person, less 50 per cent of any earned income.

But it's not working, MacLeod said. "It's possible there may even be an increase in demand for social assistance because of it". "It will support people with disabilities to work when they are able", she said, adding that the planned changes would "get them on their feet and restore dignity in their lives". "There are more compassionate ways the government could save money without targeting the most vulnerable".

In April 2017, the Canadian province launched a trial of basic income, a program in which a government regularly pays its citizens a set amount of money, no strings attached.

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