Translated from a series of French fictional stories based on the basic income: https://revenudebase.quebec/histoires/ (in French)
Written by the Revenu de Base Quebec Team
Translated by Pierre Madden
These stories are fiction. Let’s face it, Basic Income is not yet a reality anywhere (with the exception of Alaska), only a promising proposal, tested successfully on a small scale. While any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental, the situations described do resemble what real people experience every day and illustrate how Basic Income can work in practice and what impact it can have on peoples’ lives.
1. Mady and her family
Her name is really Madelyn. Everyone calls her Mady. 57 years old and recently widowed, her husband’s long illness forced her to cut her work hours in half. She was on the edge of bankruptcy. Things are better now that she is back to full-time.
Her youngest, Samuel, born just before it was too late, is now 20 and still in school. He lives at home. If he hadn’t worked at least 15 hours per week since the age of 15, the phone, the scooter, the computer and the few name brand clothes he splurged on would have been out of reach. He took an extra year to finish junior college: taking all the required courses was not always possible. He is about to start college in another city. Mady doesn’t know how she is going to be able to help him pay for 4 years of university. Her other children, Helen and James,35 and 33, have their little families. They get by…
Actually, James is doing much better than Helen. Even if he and his wife don’t have permanent jobs, they manage to make enough at consulting for him and translation for her, to have a relatively comfortable life with their two kids. To get to that point, they had to survive 3 lean years around the time the children were born. They had no paid parental leave. The problem now is managing everything. Day care for one child, elementary school for the other, a bit of sports and music for all, and the constant search for contracts, a job in itself for freelance workers.
“Poor Helen!” laments Mady, “her boyfriend left her with three kids” and she calls him names we can’t print. She met him in her early thirties; they were in love; she felt it was time to have kids; now or never; he seemed to agree. Four eventful years and three children later she finds herself in an all too common misery: rare odd jobs, trading services with other “single parents” who can’t afford childcare, clothes from hand-me-downs or thrift shops, expensive rent, minimal groceries, finicky welfare agents and all the rest.
However, it is her parents that worry Mady the most. Her mother is 82 and her father 87. He is becoming senile; she is in good health. She is exhausted taking care of her husband. Mady can see that her mother won’t last long. After sixty years of marriage, she refuses to be separated from her man. Mady’s siblings live in other cities so sooner or later she will have to pick up the slack: if not with her father , then with her mother. She worries a lot about how she will manage.
Mady, her family and a basic income for all.
Let’s imagine what it would be like…
Although Helen would be no less alone with her children, she would benefit the most from a Basic Income. Her personal allocation, combined with those of her children, would not necessarily amount to more than what she receives now in aid. However these sums are without condition, without meetings with government agents, without reports, without intrusion into her private life.
Best of all, she could build on this revenue by earning more without penalty: she could really think of improving her situation by working more and more, progressively, while still taking the time to raise her kids. The future would hold promise for her and her family.
James and his wife would have had an easier time when the children were born. They could have worked a bit less and enjoyed a less crazy life. Then again, young and ambitious, they liked the hectic pace. For sure, with less uncertainty comes less stress.
Samuel would probably be a year ahead in his studies, his child’s Basic Income permitting him to not work or work much less, just to pay for a few indulgences or to help out his mother during his father’s illness. On turning 18, he gets the full adult Basic Income; at university in another city, with an apartment, food and schooling to pay, his finances would still be very tight.
Mady, for her part, would not have risked bankruptcy during her husband’s illness. She could even have stopped working to care for him. Also, she would have less apprehension at the thought of caring for her parents or of her children caring for her in the future.
2.Peter Martin Inc.
Young and prosperous industrialist, Peter Martin’s success does not go unnoticed: big house with three garages, an equally imposing cottage by a prestigious lake, a sleek and fast number to get him from his homes to the factory. Family finances certainly benefit from his wife’s medical specialist income. And their two kids can dream of studying anywhere on the planet, a planet they know well, having traveled all over, both with their parents and alone.
Peter is past forty and greying: he had to work hard to get to where he is; he had to go through a bankruptcy and several other very difficult periods. Even if in the past few years his company is in constant growth, he never gets a moment’s rest: competition is fierce and worldwide. He has to constantly win new markets in an increasingly complex environment and continue to offer high quality innovative products to distinguish himself from everybody else.
And if only that was the end of it! Creating products, exploring markets, that’s what he does best; that’s why he built his business. He started with a few employees and worked directly with them on the shop floor. Now that there are several hundred more, it’s a different game. Recruitment and employee turnover have become factors as critical as competition and innovation.
Easy, the life of a rich industrialist? Only on the surface. Exhilarating for sure, though; Peter Martin would not think of trading places with anyone.
Peter Martin Inc., 20 years later
At the age when a salaried worker has retired, Peter Martin is still going strong and has just gone through most eventful period in his professional life: the implementation of Basic Income.
When this “thing” began to appear in the public debate, he was dead set against it
like most of his business colleagues: he thought it was raving lunacy. However, as general support for this social measure grew, at home in Quebec, in Canada and globally, he had to take it seriously.
The fundamental discussions he had had with his employees to establish joint management of his factories and profit sharing had shown him how far such measures could contribute to improving the working climate and even the product quality, not a negligible bonus. Discussions with his employees about Basic Income, heated at first, finally convinced him to take the project seriously.
From an opponent he became a supporter unlike most of his entrepreneur colleagues. When the policy was finally adopted, he couldn’t help feeling a bit nervous…
Guess what? No cataclysm occurred; no massive resignation of his personnel, his main fear. Of course a few left: most of them, temporarily, to look after a sick family member or to complete a personal project. Crazy demands for raises did not materialize. In fact, filling entry level jobs became easier and turnover in highly specialized employees dropped. Workers’ motivation improved and productivity went up. An unexpected consequence was the sharp drop in sick days, because lower stress levels employees felt in their lives and in their work.
3. Gwen and Max’s story
Small family that wants to devote more time and money to their kids, Gwen and Max were married in 2003. Tom was born in 2005, Marie in 2008, Tom is a little boy in perfect health. Unfortunately, his sister was born with a hearing deficit that delayed speech and reading development. Thanks to the help from the local hospital and from her teachers, Marie is improving every day.
Max was a union worker in the automotive industry. He was laid off in 2008 after the economic crisis and now works part-time operator mechanic, and while he worked there he may or may not have been using an auto repair invoice template for the work he does in the side but unfortunately doesn’t now due to a sharp drop in pay. If he could pay for the training, he would upgrade his skills to get a commercial job.
Gwen tops up the family revenue by working part-time in local businesses. Her hours change constantly, which on top of low pay, prevents her from being with her children as much as she would like. The parents are concerned that they won’t be able to provide their kids with the best chances of success such as the school aid programs and other opportunities available to their classmates.
If Gwen, Max, Tom and Marie could benefit from a Basic Income, their situation would improve considerably. Marie could take dance classes after school to help with her integration and get support to improve her reading. Tom could afford hockey equipment and join the school team. Thanks to a secure source of funds each month, Max could undertake the training needed to reorient his career. Gwen could spend more time with her children by not having to work while they are at home. This small additional revenue would greatly improve their family life and the future prospects of both parents and children.
4. Jane’s story: raising your child alone
Jane is 40, her daughter Emily is 12. It’s just the two of them. Emily’s father left them when she was 4. Jane wants to make sure that her daughter does not follow in her footsteps. Jane works as a waitress in a local restaurant and has trouble making ends meet. Paying the bills while still putting healthy food on the table for Emily is a challenge. Jane finds welfare humiliating so she has not applied for government aid even if she is eligible. She would like to earn more but has neither the training nor the opportunities to increase her revenues.
With a Basic Income, added to her waitress salary, Jane would be better able to take care of her daughter, spend more time with her when necessary, provide balanced meals, let her study, do sports. Jane just needs more freedom in her choices, without having to answer to the government.
With a Basic Income, Jane’s economic situation would have no impact on Emily’s schooling. Her daughter would have the same chance of professional success as children born in more privileged environments.
5. The story of Gabe, entrepreneur
Gabe has always dreamed of being his own boss. Although, at the moment, he works for a big company and earns a comfortable living, what he really wants is to start his own business. When he was in college, Gabe invented a more efficient cement pouring system which could save up to 25% of the time needed to lay foundation in large construction sites. Unfortunately, because he had to pay back his student loans, Gabe was unable to launch his business and instead took a job in a civil engineering firm.
In 2012, because of rising rent, he bought a little condo. He was about to make a move when he realized that his monthly payments made it unrealistic to leave a stable job and go for it. In case things did not work out, he would lose his condo and have to go crawling back to his old employer.
A Basic Income would give Gabe the financial security he needs to create his business. Indeed, the monthly amount would be sufficient to cover his student and condo payments and have enough to eat. A bank loan would become possible in order to launch his company. He would then have the credibility to approach his current employer to enlist his support for the project. Gabe figures it would take a year of hard work to demonstrate the potential of his new technology and start generating revenues.
Basic Income is the launching pad he needs to become his own boss.
6. Arnold Choi’s story
Arnold arrived in Canada in 2013 with only a work permit in hand. Now he is a permanent resident and well on the way to becoming a Canadian citizen.
As an engineer from China, he came to Montreal to earn money to send back to his family back in Beijing. Arnold fell in love with Canada. He is well integrated in the community, goes to church every Sunday and volunteers at a food bank.
He works as an engineer in a buildings and public works company and has been able to put aside enough money to think of bringing his wife Suzanne and their children to Canada.
Unfortunately, his father became very ill in 2014. Arnold had to return to Beijing, to look after him and accompany him in his final days. Medical and funeral expenses were substantial and now Arnold can no longer afford to bring his family to Canada.
With a Basic Income, Arnold could have brought his family to Canada and supported them in their new life. Arnold can appreciate to what extent the Canadian population is the fruit of immigration. Arnold being a member of the community, it is only fair that he should bring his family. A Basic Income would give him enough security to reunite his family and perhaps make new citizens for Canada.