POLITICS
03/05/2020 18:22 EST

Ontario Government Defends Nixing Basic Income After Study Shows Trial's Benefits

Many participants were able to leave “dead-end jobs” for something better, a McMaster University study found.

Chris Young/Canadian Press
Ontario Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Todd Smith is seen at Queen's Park in Toronto on May 27, 2019.

TORONTO — Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government says it has no regrets about cancelling a basic income pilot project even though a recent study found it vastly improved people’s health and helped many find better jobs. 

“One of the first campaign promises your government broke was to complete the basic income pilot,” Green party Leader Mike Schreiner told Premier Doug Ford in the legislature Thursday. 

“Without citing any evidence, you told us that it wasn’t working because it was preventing people from getting a job. Well, we now have the first in-depth study of the basic income pilot, and lo and behold, the premier was off the mark. Three quarters of those who were working continued to do so. One quarter of low-wage workers moved to higher-paying jobs,” he said. 

He asked Ford if he would revive the pilot. 

Todd Smith, the minister of children, community and social services, answered on Ford’s behalf.

“No,” he said. 

“A research project that only included 4,000 individuals is not an adequate solution to solving the problem in a province where we have far too many people living on social assistance … What we’re doing is actually taking action to ensure that people can get back to work.”

Watch HuffPost Canada’s video series about people on Ontario’s basic income pilot. Story continues after video.

 

Smith’s predecessor, Minister Lisa MacLeod, cancelled the pilot early in 2018. At the time, she said the project was “broken” and was discouraging people from finding work. 

The pilot, launched by Ontario’s previous Liberal government, provided income to people living on social assistance or in low-wage jobs. Single participants who lived on less than $34,000 could get up to $16,989 per year. Couples with a combined income under $48,000 could get as much as $24,027. 

Participants who were working saw their payments reduced by 50 per cent of their income. 

According to a survey of more than 200 participants, published by McMaster University on Wednesday, there was “a slight reduction” in the number of people employed once the basic income was put into place. 

About a quarter of employed people left their jobs, while one-fifth of the unemployed people found work. Forty-one per cent of those who left work did so to go to school. And almost all of the people who left their jobs had been precariously employed.

If anything, the basic income pilot could be viewed as an employment policy.Wayne Lewchuk

The results show “exactly the opposite” of what the PCs said was happening, Wayne Lewchuk, a professor emeritus in McMaster’s school of labour studies and department of economics, told HuffPost Canada. 

“If anything, the basic income pilot could be viewed as an employment policy,” he said. 

“Because what it really did was provide people with a foundation and a base to improve their general health, improve their mental health, improve their outlook on life. And all of those things make people more employable, not less.”

Nearly 80 per cent of participants said that basic income made them “somewhat more motivated” or “much more motivated” to look for work, the McMaster study found. 

Recipients said their health improved

Participants also reported better physical and mental health, improved relationships and fewer trips to food banks, doctors’ offices and emergency rooms.

“One common pattern was for recipients to report moving from low paying dead-end jobs to jobs with better working conditions and with improved long-term opportunities,” the study said. 

“The pilot was nothing short of successful,” researchers concluded. “The results ... dispel some of the fears of the opponents of basic income including that it will lead to a wholesale abandonment of paid employment.”

In a way, you could say basic income saved my life.Ontario basic income recipient

One young man, who said that he had tried to kill himself three times in a five-year period before the pilot, enrolled in university. 

“In a way, you could say basic income saved my life,” he said.

Others reported that they could afford basic necessities — like a bed or a warm winter coat — for the first time.

“The desperate situation that some people were in before basic income was implemented, frankly, is a bit embarrassing in a country like Canada,” Lewchuk said. 

“Some of these people were really struggling or just barely holding on … Receiving basic income, it was like the sun was shining again.”