Ontario's basic income pilot project was "an angel in disguise" for people who could afford dental work for the first time in years, buy their prescription medications and pay for transportation to and from work, according to a new survey.
"I was able to get the medical equipment I needed so I didn't have to leave work for my asthma," one participant told the Basic Income Canada Network (BICN).
"I felt finally like I was a part of society and not isolated ... It was a feeling of confidence, self-worth," another reported.
"I was able to live as a happy human being."
BICN designed its survey to make up for the government's "very unfortunate missed opportunity" to study the impact of Ontario's pilot. BICN is an advocacy group that supports the idea of a government-funded basic income available to all citizens.
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Ontario's previous Liberal government launched the experiment in 2017. Individuals and couples got up to $17,000 and $24,000 a year, respectively, to supplement low incomes or replace welfare or disability payments.
Researchers were enlisted to study the social and health benefits of lifting 4,000 people out of poverty. In Lindsay, Ont., where 10 per cent of the entire town was on basic income, researchers were watching for changes to the community's rates of hospital usage, unemployment and crime.
That was, until July of last year.
One month after taking office, Ontario's Progressive Conservatives called the research off. Participants won't be sent any official surveys and payments will end this month.
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"For the amount it was costing the province of Ontario ... it was certainly not going to be sustainable," Minister Lisa MacLeod said at the time.
She said a permanent basic income would cost Ontario $17 billion a year.
But some advocates say it would cost far less than that because it would decrease the government's other expenses for health care and social services. And BICN's study suggests there could be some merit to that theory.
BICN got 424 pilot participants, or about 10 per cent of the whole group, to answer its survey and leave comments.
People in the pilot reported feeling less stressed, less isolated and more hopeful for their futures.
Forty-five per cent said they experienced fewer health problems overall while on basic income; 74 per cent said they made healthier food choices; 32 per cent got dental work they'd been putting off; 41 per cent bought medication they struggled to afford before; 17 per cent saw the amount of medication they need decrease.
Before basic income, one respondent said they visited the hospital multiple times a week because they ate poorly and felt stressed and hopeless all the time.
Other health benefits included weight loss and improved mental health. Forty per cent said they joined a gym or started working toward fitness goals. One person reported losing 100 pounds while enrolled in the pilot.
The mental health benefits were staggering.
Eighty-eight per cent said basic income reduced their stress and anxiety and 73 per cent said it reduced their depression. One person said they paid off debts that were making them feel suicidal. Another said they found full-time work because basic income payments reduced their anxiety so much.
"Basic income made me want to better myself and I did," that person wrote.
The pilot reduced reliance on community services and in some cases, helped people look for work and improve their employment prospects. Fifty-six per cent of respondents said they had no paid work in 2018.
Basic income made me want to better myself and I did.Ontario pilot project participant
Twenty-eight per cent said they stopped relying on food banks because of the pilot; 32 per cent went back to school; almost 6 per cent said they started working or looking for work because they could now afford child care; 20 per cent could afford transportation for work or interviews; 9 per cent started or expanded their own business.
"I was able to move to a city where I could find better work opportunities and get married," one person wrote.
The government told participants when they signed up for the pilot that it would run for three years. At the time of BICN's survey, respondents reported receiving payments for anywhere between four and 14 months.
Now that it's been cancelled, 80 per cent say they can feel their previous problems returning.
"Some felt that they would manage, but almost everyone was devastated and felt betrayed," the BICN wrote in its report.
Sixty-one per cent said they have to cancel or change their plans. One person said they will go back to being homeless.
Another participant said they wanted to "curl up and die" when they heard the pilot was cancelled.
"I feel hopeless ... Suddenly all of my options were removed and I was faced with giving up my schooling (which was already partially paid for), losing my home, or both," another said.
"Now feel I cannot trust whatever the government says."