Universal Basic Income improves mental health, grants access to education and reduces base-line poverty levels
Alexis Zygan // Contributor
Sophie Young // Illustrator
COVID-19 has highlighted for many that Canada’s income security isn’t that secure. As the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) ends Sept. 21 and the Canadian Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) was terminated on Aug. 29, debates continue about alternative support systems for individuals facing precarious financial prospects, possible poverty and growing debt. It’s time that our economists and policy-makers seriously consider long-term solutions that aren’t made up of patch-work emergency benefits, but instead, provide real long-term stability. Universal basic income, although controversial and costly, is a promising method of reducing poverty and positively impacting the financial and mental health of all Canadians.
In a long-forgotten experiment, economists studied the impact of providing every member of a small, rural town of Dauphin, Manitoba with a basic yearly stipend of at least $10,000. While the Conservative government scrapped the study due to its ballooning budget, findings showed a positive reduction in doctor visits, decreased mental and physical ailments and an increased number of high school graduates.
Despite the researched benefits, giving ‘unearned’ money to people is a controversial idea. An Angus Reid survey found that three in five Canadians support universal basic income—and for good reason. Receiving a guaranteed income provides financial stability, allowing people to consider things beyond the housing, food and utilities needed to survive. Having financial stability allows people to plan for the future, invest in themselves and the country as a whole, and access multiple health care services which can be costly and are not covered by the Medical Services Plan.
Some believe that a guaranteed income would deteriorate the will to work, causing employed people to quit their jobs. They envision marginalized people wasting taxpayer dollars, and people with addictions using government money to support them. However, the thing to keep in mind is that a universal basic income wouldn’t replace a job; it would allow people to look for a well-suited job without worrying about survival. When it’s impossible to sustain a job due to disability, mental illness or addiction, people may resort to staying in single-room-occupancy hotels (SRO). SRO’s on the Downtown Eastside offer barely-livable accommodations, with many rooms plagued by rat and cockroach infestations.
￼The findings of the short-lived Dauphin study show that providing a guaranteed income improved the mental health of the overall population. The money provides those on the margins of society with the ability to seek long-term, effective aid. ￼People with addictions, disabilities or mental illness have resources to pay for rehabilitation. They re-enter society while having the financial means to access social, psychological and professional support—all of which are necessary for long-term health.
Universal basic income is a solution that goes beyond solving monetary instability; it provides relief from things like depression and job dissatisfaction. Instead of picking up another shift to make ends meet, a guaranteed income can give parents the ability to work less and spend more time with their children. It may even allow parents to attend school themselves, starting a positive cycle that impacts their entire family.
Young adults can pursue post-secondary studies without the fear of crippling student loan debt post-graduation. Students could perform better, because they can focus on school without the added stress of taking on side-jobs and gigs. Without the burden of major debt, students invest more time in finding jobs that align with their passions. Likewise, this would give new high school graduates a greater chance of pursuing fulfilling careers, because the financial barriers to education are lessened.
In our current socio-economic climate, people define themselves through their work. I’ve known countless people that introduce themselves by their title and place of employment. Humanity needs to find an identity outside of their work—providing a guaranteed income is a great starting point. People would no longer have to work for the sole purpose of survival. They could instead invest their time into creative pursuits, activism, volunteer work and advocacy. Canadians can live in a society where everyone has the opportunity to achieve their full potential. To get there, we need to give those in need a hand up—not a one-time financial hand out.