Giving people a guaranteed annual income is an idea that’s been embraced by a lot of smart people. What most people don’t know is that in Canada, for a short time, it actually happened:
Although the Mincome experiment was intended to provide a body of information to study labour market trends, Forget discovered that Mincome had a significant effect on people’s well being. Two years ago, the professor started studying the health records of Dauphin residents to assess the impacts of the program.
In the period that Mincome was administered, hospital visits dropped 8.5 per cent. Fewer people went to the hospital with work-related injuries and there were fewer emergency room visits from car accidents and domestic abuse. There were also far fewer mental health visits.
It’s not hard to see why, says Forget.
“When you walk around a hospital, it’s pretty clear that a lot of the time what we’re treating are the consequences of poverty,” she says.
Give people financial independence and control over their lives and these accidents and illnesses tend to dissipate, says Forget. In today’s terms, an 8.5 per cent decrease in hospital visits across Canada would save the government $4 billion annually, by her calculations. And $4 billion is the amount that the federal government is currently trying to save by slashing social programming and arts funding.
Having analyzed the health data, Forget is now working on a cost-benefit analysis to see what a guaranteed income program might save the federal government if it were implemented today. She’s already worked with a Senate committee investigating a guaranteed income program for all low-income Canadians.
The Canadian government’s sudden interest in guaranteed income programs doesn’t surprise Forget.
Every 10 or 15 years there seems to be a renewed interest in getting Guaranteed Income (GI) programs off the ground, according to Saskatchewan social work professor James Mulvale. He’s researched and written extensively about guaranteed income programs and is also part the Canadian chapter of the Basic Income Earth Network, a worldwide organization that advocates for guaranteed income.
GI programs exist in countries like Brazil, Mexico, France and even the state of Alaska.
Although people may not recognize it, subtle forms of guaranteed income already exist in Canada, says Mulvale, pointing to the child benefit tax, guaranteed income for seniors and the modest GST/HST rebate program for low-income earners.
However, a wider-reaching guaranteed income program would go a long way in decreasing poverty, he says.