Guaranteed income plan could change students’ lives

Murissa Barrington

BIZ/TECH REPORTER

Charlene Cruzat-Whervin says if she had enough money, she could work less and spend more time improving her grades.

The second year Fitness and Health Promotion student is like many others at Humber College who work part-time jobs during their study period. Cruz-Whervin says working minimum wage, $11.75 an hour, puts a strain on her finances.

Alexus Morey is a first year paralegal student who makes $14 an hour and says even for her, having money left over after paying bills can be difficult.

“From 18 (years old) on I’ve had to pay for everything myself. I have a car and I’m in school so every paycheck, every month I’d say I get $200 to myself,” said Morey. “Everything’s gone. So it’s difficult and I’m even getting paid $14 an hour so you could imagine what it’s like for people making less.”

The Ontario government is currently seeking public input on a Basic Income pilot project. Basic income would replace the two existing aid programs, Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program.

The Basic Income project would provide residents a guaranteed income that would bring them within 75 per cent of the Low Income Measure (LIM), regardless of whether the individual is working or not. For a single adult, the estimated basic income amount, at 75 percent of LIM, is $16,989. Currently, the maximum amount of aid available under Ontario Works is $8,472.

Morey says a proposal like this could be a great help for someone like her aunt who currently doesn’t receive enough support for her disability.

“I have an aunt that is legally blind,” she said. “So for her to have it would be amazing because obviously she can’t work at all.”

For someone like Morey’s aunt, the Basic Income Supplement would mean her current Ontario Disability Support Program amount of $13,536 per year, would increase to $22,989 per year. According to Statistics Canada, the Low Income Measure for a single person household in 2014 was $21,773, meaning the Basic Income Supplement might actually put people just above the poverty line.

The pilot project would aim to test the ways that creating ‘mincome’ could reduce the negative effects poverty has on people’s lives, health, relationships, prospects, and social conditions.

The Manitoba NDP tested the country’s only guaranteed income program in the small town of Dauphin between 1974 and 1979. The project was shuttered the Manitoba Provincial Conservatives and the findings were never released.

Humber College business professor Steve Bang agrees the project could potentially provide much needed help to those who are living below the poverty line.

“I think it’s a positive thing where instead of paying people little bits here and there… They can come up with a system which is called the Guaranteed Income System where they roll that all into one and the individual will be able to get one cheque from one area of the government that covers everything.”

When considering the effects it would have on the economy, there likely wouldn’t be a drastic difference in how it already is, Bang said.

However, he says the demand for rental housing will increase when the number of eligible renters inevitably goes up.

“Some people right now actually share properties because they can’t afford to live alone,” he said. “So once they get a guaranteed minimum they’ll have enough money whereby they can get their own place and therefore there’s going to be a demand for rental properties.

“But I don’t think it will affect the first time buyer housing market although you might see some people buying houses to rent them out,” he said.

In a discussion paper, Ontario’s special adviser on basic income projected the project as a humane and useful way to measure how to diminish the costs of poverty in terms of productivity, health, policing, and other community costs.

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