In Canada, basic income has become a central issue in the debate on a post-pandemic recovery. Recent steps taken by the governing Liberal Party to endorse the policy has begged the question whether this might represent a serious step towards a permanent national basic income.
In their annual convention in mid-April, Liberal Party grassroots, MPs and delegates voted overwhelmingly in favour of making universal basic income a top policy priority for the party going forward. The policy earned a second place out of 26 policy resolutions to come out of the convention. Although the vote is not binding and does not guarantee that the party will go further with the policy resolution, and further, does not detail what such as Canadian basic income might look like, the move adds to growing momentum surrounding basic income in the national debate.
While the idea has garnered significant national attention previously in Canada, particularly surrounding the recent pilot project in the province of Ontario that was prematurely cancelled, the pandemic has accelerated that debate. At the onset of the country’s first national lock-down in March of last year, there was a significant push for the government to implement an emergency basic income by various advocacy groups such as Basic Income Canada Network, its provincial affiliates as well as by individual long-time basic income proponents. It also garnered significant media attention, with the debate often being centered on the ways in which the current income support system in Canada was inadequate to address the situation.
Many argued that the current employment insurance scheme and the social assistance system were out-dated models not equipped to deal with a changed, and changing, workforce. The New Democratic Party to the left of the Liberal party, which has not traditionally supported basic income but rather a strengthening of the employment insurance system, came out in favor of a universal guaranteed income as a pandemic measure and joined the push for the government to adopt such a policy.
At the time, however, Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rejected the idea of implementing a universal basic income and opted instead for a more targeted approach. This gave rise to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), which was meant for those who did not qualify for existing support programs. The benefit provided individuals who had lost all or part of their income due to the Pandemic with a direct deposit of $2000CAD per month for up to six months. Among the five eligibility criteria for the program, an individual had to have earned minimum $5000CAD in employment income in the previous year, and, as such, it still to some degree tied eligibility to formal employment status.
There was both approval and criticism of the program from all sides of the political spectrum. The Conservative Party argued that the policy was too costly, enabled people to cheat and would prove a disincentive for people to look for and find new work, while the New Democratic Party criticised the policy for being too heavily conditional, not sufficient and not accessible to all who need it.
The program was nonetheless seen by some as a precursor to a potential basic income and as an unintended national experiment with basic income. Amid positive stories published in media on how the CERB had helped people get by, there were further calls to turn the program into a basic income – something that was again, however, rejected by the Prime Minister. Nevertheless, acknowledging that taking away this income support from people in the midst of an ongoing pandemic and new impending lock-downs, the program was replaced by a similar one called the Canada Recovery Benefit, set to end in September 2021.
Now, with the prospect of the pandemic coming to an end, the focus is on basic income as a part of the post-pandemic recovery. Further advocacy groups such as LeadNow and UBI Works have campaigned for the governing party to endorse the policy, and in February a Liberal member of parliament introduced a bill calling for national guaranteed basic income. A vote to determine whether the bill will be brought to committee is expected in coming weeks. If indeed based on the CERB, a hypothetical permanent Canadian basic income would likely not include the pandemic-specific work requirements, but further details as to what such a policy would look like are not provided in the motion.
Additionally, a week before the Liberal convention, the parliamentary budget office issued a report on the cost and the impact on poverty of a national guaranteed basic income, which has significant differences to the “basic income” as defined by BiEN. The report estimates the costs of a model akin to the one that was tested in the pilot project in Ontario to be $87.6 billion in 2022-23. This amount does not take into consideration the potential cost savings of repealing social assistance programs it might replace, as well as the potential savings in terms of health care costs, reduction in crime and less pressure on other social support systems that such a policy might have – something which Evelyn Forget’s groundbreaking work on the Mincome Project in the 1970s in Manitoba shows to be the case. The report concludes that this kind of basic income model could reduce poverty rates by 49% and further estimates that the effect on labour supply is a 1.3 percentage drop in hours worked per week on a national average. Both the cost of a national basic income and the effects on behaviour relating to work have been central concerns in the debate.
There was much anticipation leading up to the convention, and the vote to endorse basic income as a top policy priority signals a shift in the party’s stance on the policy, even though it is not binding. And while basic income was not a part of the Liberal’s federal budget for 2021-22, which was unveiled following the convention, the endorsement comes in an election year, which could make it a key election issue.
In 2009, a significant expansion took place. A call started from various initiatives, and finally 247 organizations and over 2,800 individuals participated. In Germany a website was developed to showcase the activity and creativity, with countless ideas, suggestions, and planned actions, under the editorial supervision of Martina Steinheuer.
The 4th International Basic Income Week was held 19 to 25 September 2011 with a focus on “Basic Income in Europe“. In Germany and Austria, there were about 100 events and activities: discussions, workshops, readings, theater and film screenings, exhibitions, etc. The fifth International Basic Income Week happened 17 to 23 September 2012 with the focus on “Ways to Basic Income”.
In 2013, the year of the European Citizens’ Initiative for Unconditional Basic Income, “Basic Income a Human Right“, a further internationalization of the 6th week of basic income took place. The Netherlands organized the “Week van het Basisinkomen” but not much action was involved, we were all too busy collecting signatures for the ECI.
In 2014 a Basic Income Week websitewas set up in English to further internationalize the event by Robin Ketelaars. Manja Taylor handled promotion and activities.
Unconditional Basic Income Europe (UBIE) adopted the 8th International Basic Income Week in 2015 as a key item to organize every year by all countries individually. Also at the 15th Annual North American Basic Income Guarantee Congress, International Basic Income Week was adopted as a way to publicise UBI.
That year, 19 countries participated with live events: Belgium, China, Danmark, Germany, France, United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, Malawi, Netherlands, Norway, Austria, Sweden, Swiss, Zimbabwe, Spain, South Korea, Hungary, USA. A further eight countries participated on the internet: Australia, Brasil, Bulgaria, Finland, India, Italy, Mozambique, New Zealand, Zambia, South Africa.
9th international Basic Income Week had the motto “Basic income goes worldwide”. In 2016 Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) contributed to the week´s further globalization by starting a group on Slack for better collaboration. Jenna van Draalen from Canada and Christof Lammer from Austria were among the promoters of the IBIW along with many more UBI activists. Themes for other yearly events can be found on basicincomweek.org.
International Basic Income Week is a self-organised participatory week. A lot can be done, from spreading the news to friends to organising your own event with films, speakers or creative action. We can help with finding presenters and promoting your event with our shared Basic Income Week website. We welcome new participants who can share time, money or ideas! Get in touch with your regional group or the international coordination team, and let us know what you decide to do! This year there was the start of the Videothon Playlist.
From 2018 onwards there have been three synchronised events. 1) Make a photo and share it on social media with the hashtag #countonbasicincome on the Wednesday 2) Come and socialize, organize a #basicincomebeer on the Friday 3) Since 2019 the #basicincomemarch is part of the week on the Saturday
Basic Income Marches In April 2019, social worker and co-founder of Basic Income NYC Diane Pagen and 2020 candidate for U.S. Congress James Felton Keith came together to organize a public event in a show of force and inclusion for basic income.
2020 saw a huge growth in support for basic income in the United States. It was important to provide different ways for the community to celebrate. All sorts of events, live and online, from a film screening, panel discussions, to a Year of Basic Income Livestream event featuring commentary from Andrew Yang, Andy Stern, and over 10 Mayors from Mayors for a Guaranteed Income and more, marked the important progress made in 2020.
With COVID measures in place, city organizers got creative. From art installations, to bike and car parades, to street corner protests, Income Movement in the US built tools to make it easy for organizers to plan amazing, highly successful events while allowing for safe social distancing for community members. Many people who did not go on the streets posted a photo with the hashtag #talkonyourwalk and held Zoom sessions with shoes.
This year’s motto for International Basic Income Week is ‘Forward to a Better World!’
Future plans? Who knows? We hope that with BIEN’s support we can involve more countries in India, Africa, Asia and Latin America this year.
How can people contribute to or participate in IBIW this year? Organize events and spread the B-word! Social media activists wanted for @insta and other media outlets There is a Slack group where activities are discussed which you can join: the Basic Income Outreach Group. Please let us know if you want an invite via the contact form. We’re always on the lookout for more ideas!
*) Basic Income Day In 2014 a website promoting Basic Income Daywas started by Robin Ketelaars. “If everyone is his own king, nobody has to be the king of the other.” This sentence by Michael Sennhauser (Swiss Radio DRS) in the review of the film Kulturimpuls Grundeinkommen by Daniel Häni & Enno Schmidt and the film scene at Basel SBB train station inspired the crowning of the first 500 heads 1 May 2009 on the market square in Lörrach. Since then, we want to unite with everyone who burns for an unconditional basic income to trigger a wave of change.” The action was followed up in 2014 by Sylvia Mair and Oliver Der as a Basic Income Day on the 1st of May. This was supported by Scott Santens, a Basic Income activist from the United States, and other activists in Europe and the US. The websiteis in use for more “basic income days”. Human Rights Day is celebrated annually across the world on 10 December. In 2013 we participated by showing the world through our profile pic that an Unconditional Basic Income is a human right. The action this year will take place 4 to10 December. International Women’s Day on 8 March could also become a “Basic Income Day”.
Pieter Kooistra, born in Leeuwarden, was not only an artist, but also a world improver. He founded the Kunstuitleen and advocated basic income. With the Fryslân DOK “Think the impossible”, documentary maker Anne van Slageren (firstname.lastname@example.org) sketches a portrait of Pieter Kooistra. The ideas he developed at the end of the last century are also topical today.
“Be realistic. Think the impossible. ” These are the words of artist Pieter Kooistra (1922-1998). He wanted to stop the unequal distribution of wealth in the world and the destruction of the planet. “He was a visionary,” says Annemieke Roobeek, professor at Nyenrode Business University. After seeing images of starving children in India, Pieter Kooistra understood that art, which he describes as “the spiritual”, could not do without “the material”. He went on a journey and came up with a plan for a basic world income. Economist Annemieke Roobeek now predicts: “A basic income for everyone will one day belong to our time and the world.” She even sees a role for the European Central Bank in this.
In the Fryslân DOK “Think the impossible”, Brigitta Scheepsma, party leader of GroenLinks in the municipality of Tytsjerksteradiel, goes in search of man Pieter Kooistra and his ideas. In the Veerhuis aan de Waal in Varik, where Kooistra worked, she meets Henry Mentink, who wants to keep Pieter Kooistra’s ideas alive. She visits Terschelling, where Pieter Kooistra set up an alternative holiday colony. Former partner Trees Niekus says about this passionate man: “He was unstoppable.”
With the increase in research on the circular economy system, the basic income and circular economy relationship has also started to be considered. For example, this relationship was examined in the article ‘‘How could a Basic Income support a Circular Economy?’’ published on the Basic Income Network Scotland website on 23 July 2019. In fact, this article is based on the transcript of an interview between Timothea Armor, Basic Income Network Scotland Editor, and Teja Hudson, a zero waste consultant and founder of Zero.
The current system of capitalism, free markets, and endless growth, according to Hudson, disappoints us socially. She points out that there are many people who want to make the world a better place, but this disappointment forces them to struggle just to survive. Therefore, she claims that we have lost many bright and creative minds due to preventable social inequalities such as poverty, hunger, disease, gender inequality, persecution, violence and lack of education. Finally, she suggests we need social change, and these people represent a great untapped potential for that social change.
Adding to Hudson’s argument, it is very difficult to be creative when you are stressed, under pressure or not inspired, and especially when you are worried about money. As a result of this, there are a lot of artists and creative people struggling to practice their art and instead interrupted by the need to earn a living. Hudson summarizes the potential contribution of basic income to this problem with the following statement: “This is where Basic Income would be a revelation.” She claims that by implementing a Basic Income, highly experienced creative people, free thinkers and problem solvers will be ready to help solve the problems of 10 billion people on a small planet instead of getting stuck in a dead end.
According to Hudson, circular economy is a way of looking at resources on our planet and understanding that everything is part of a circular system rather than a line. She believes the aim is to keep resources circulating in this cycle for as long as possible, minimizing the use of unused raw material and maximising productivity in the production process.
As for the potential relationship between basic income and the circular economy, Hudson points out that environmental and social concerns are very closely linked and that the goals and values of both systems are the same; “for humanity and the planet to survive and flourish together, so what helps the environmental movement to accomplish that will also help the social movement to accomplish that, and vice versa.” She argues that these two systems acting together could be more effective and bring sources and audiences together.
Over two thirds of Wales is in favour of a basic income trial in the country. The poll, carried out by Survation and commissioned by Sophie Howe, Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, included over a thousand respondents.
Ahead of the country’s general election in early May, Future Generations is pressuring the Welsh government towards implementing more progressive measures destined to protect the economic and labor interests of the younger generations of the country, which have been remarkably affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Among these policies they included a petition to start a basic income trial.
According to Howe, a basic income could be highly beneficial for the Welsh. Howe states that a basic income could successfully address the issues that the welfare stated has failed to tackle (increase in poverty, automation and unstable jobs). Howe claims that “a basic income could be that stronger safety net which keeps people from falling through the cracks of support now and in the future.”
The think tank Autonomy is working alongside Future Generations to make the basic income trial happen. Will Stronge, co-director of Autonomy, claims that is critical to provide financial security to everyone, especially in these times of crisis. “The time has come for a universal basic income in Wales”, Stronge demands.
Calls for basic income in Wales are not new and Future Generations and Autonomy are not the only ones demanding the implementation. In 2020, during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Plaid Cymru, the biggest nationalist party in the country, called for an emergency UBI and, more recently, the party has expressed support towards a cultural basic income to support culture. On a local level, the councils of Swansea and Rhondda Cynon Taf (RCT) have passed motions in support of piloting the trial, while the leader of the council of Cardiff has expressed interest towards the measure.
In February 2019, then-Stockton Mayor Michael D. Tubbs launched the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (‘SEED’), a 24-month guaranteed income initiative, the first mayor-led initiative of the sort in the US. Two years later, the preliminary results from the first twelve months of the experiment (through to February 2020, before the pandemic) have been released and the key findings are positive with the guaranteed income reducing income volatility, enabling access to full-time work, improving mental health and allowing better control over one’s time and decisions.
Under the SEED program, 125 Stockton residents were randomly selected to receive $500 per month for two years with no conditions attached to the handout and limited eligibility criteria namely: being at least 18 years old, being a Stockton resident and living in a neighbourhood at or below the median income ($46,003 in Stockton). A control group of 200 individuals meeting those same criteria was also established for research purposes.
The experiment is funded with private donations including a $1 million grant from the Economic Security Project, an initiative that aims at “making the economy work again for all Americans” with a specific focus on guaranteed income and anti-monopoly action.
The program is being evaluated by two researchers, Dr. Stacia Martin-West of the University of Tennessee, and Dr. Amy Castro Baker of the University of Pennsylvania under a ‘mixed-methods approach’ consisting in both a quantitative and qualitative analysis of data collected before and during the experiment. The data was collected through both surveys and in-person or group interviews (participation in the experiment was not conditional on participating in these interviews).
The experiment was designed in close cooperation with public authorities and community members to tailor it to local specificities (disbursement timing and mechanism for instance) and to build trust between recipients, control group members and SEED staff. This work was necessary to address initial concerns around the unconditional and guaranteed nature of the income (considered ‘too good to be true’) and the risk of loss of eligibility for other benefits (covered through specific work by the Economic Security Project).
The preliminary results show that recipients made rational decisions about the income they were receiving, mostly spending it on ‘necessities’ (food, utilities, auto care). The researchers also found positive spillover effects with recipients being able to assist people in their extended networks more. Recipients also faced less income volatility and, noticeably, reported being more able to face unexpected expenses with cash or a cash-equivalent than before.
The guaranteed income gave recipients more time to engage in meaningful activities (socialising, spending time with children). This, according to the researchers, highlights how “financial scarcity generates time scarcity”. Participants also reported improvements in mental health when members of the control group did not experience the same improvements. Participants also reported improvements in mental health compared to the baseline measures when members of the control group did not experience the same improvements.
Finally, the program also resulted in an increase in full-time employment. 28% of recipients had a full-time job at the beginning of the project. After a year that proportion had risen to 40% (in the control group the proportion only moved from 32% to 37%). Some individuals indicated that the guaranteed income allowed them time to train or complete a degree or simply gave them more confidence to apply for certain positions.
Reactions to the release of the study have been positive with the findings seen as further evidence that these programs do not remove incentives to work and that, as the researchers put it, “poverty results from a lack of cash, not of character” making cash transfers an effective way of addressing poverty (the researchers as well as Mayor Tubbs are quick to point out however that these cash transfers cannot be the only solution to the issues faced by residents of a city such as Stockton).
On the other hand some have pointed out that SEED remains a small-scale and relatively short experiment and have cautioned about drawing conclusions too rapidly from the study. Another limitation of the study is that tracking of expenses from the guaranteed income relied on recipients collaborating with the researchers (the income was transferred to a prepaid debit card to be used directly and through which researchers had access to spending records, or to be withdrawn as cash or to another account. In those cases, about 40% of the recipients, researchers had to conduct specific surveys). Finally, some critics have used the fact that the experiment was being privately funded to argue that basic income was too expensive for public authorities.
Regardless, these results are sure to add to the growing debate about basic income in the US. Other experiments are ongoing, and in June 2020, Michael Tubbs and the Economic Security Project founded Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, a network of around 40 mayors across the US working on implementing guaranteed-income experiments in their cities.