Sarnia-Lambton aims to be test site for basic income program

Troy Shantz

Sarnia-Lambton is trying to become one of the Ontario test sites for a Basic Income Guarantee program.

The trial, if approved, would provide a basic income to all those living below a certain income threshold and could replace the current Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support program.

“We’ve been a really successful community coming together to run programs for people in receipt of social assistance, like our Circles program,” said Karen Mathewson, chair of the local Poverty Reduction Network.

“I think there would be a lot of community and political support for us to also be a test-pilot site for the Basic Income Guarantee.”

Lambton County council has endorsed the concept of becoming a test site in the spring of 2017, and Sarnia-Lambton MP Marilyn Gladu and Sarnia-Lambton MPP Bob Bailey have both backed the idea.

Now, the Network is organizing a Nov. 23 Community Forum at which experts will outline what such a program would look like, and why Sarnia-Lambton might be a good place to test it.

“What we’re seeing with the programs that are in place right now under Ontario Works and Ontario Disability benefits, is that there’s more barriers set up to people being able to look for work and to work,” said Mathewson.

Former Conservative senator and special advisor Hugh Segal recently released a discussion paper entitled Finding a Better Way: A Basic Income Pilot Project for Ontario.

“For all those good folks on the right … who say that if you pay people to do nothing they will do nothing, I remind them that 70% of the people who live beneath the poverty line in Ontario … have jobs,” Segall said in a recent CBC interview.
“They just don’t earn enough through minimum wage to be above the poverty line.”

Segal has recommended the basic income be set at a minimum of $1,320 a month, with an additional $500 if the recipient has a disability.

The Netherlands and Finland have basic income programs and a Canadian version known as “Mincome” was tried in Dauphin, Manitoba. Between 1974 and 1979, about 1,000 families living below the poverty line were ‘topped-up’ with monthly payouts calculated by their income and expenses.

“What they found was that people’s health increased, there were a lot less visits to emergency, a lot less need for people to see their doctors.” Mathewson said of the Manitoba trial.
“There was a decrease in the number of children going into CAS care. There was an increase in the number of people graduating from high school. And so all those positive things happened because people had enough income to take care of their basic needs.”

IF YOU GO:

WHAT: Basic Income Guarantee Forum, hosted by the Poverty Reduction Network and the Community Homelessness Initiative Network

WHERE: Event Centre at Lambton Collage, 1485 London Rd.

WHEN: Wednesday, Nov. 23, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

SPEAKERS: Dr. Sudit Ranade, Lambton’s Medical Officer of Health; Tracy Smith-Carrier, Assistant Professor School of Social Work, Western University; and Mike P. Moffatt, Assistant Professor, Business Economics and Public Policy Group, Western University.