Basic Income - North America

Posted on Monday, 7 May 2012

Basic Income would help reduce inequality and poverty

Inequality and poverty must be addressed effectively and soon if the current growing polarisation process being experienced within countries and between countries is to be halted and reversed. 

This was a key conclusion of the 11th North American Basic Income Congress held in Toronto, Canada in May 2012. 
Speakers from across the political spectrum and representing a wide range of perspectives on social, economic and environmental policy supported this viewpoint and discussed a broad range of possible initiatives that would achieve this outcome.
Basic Income was proposed as part of a comprehensive, sustainable solution proposed by many speakers among the 46 papers presented by experts from North America, Europe and Asia. A Basic Income is an income unconditionally granted to all on an individual basis, without means test or work requirement. It is a form of minimum income guarantee that differs from those that now exist in various European countries in three important ways:

  • it is being paid to individuals rather than households;
  • it is paid irrespective of any income from other sources;
  • it is paid without requiring the performance of any work or the willingness to accept a job if offered.

While it was recognised at the Toronto conference that income alone will not eliminate poverty or inequality it was strongly emphasised that income must always be a key part of any effective response to these problems. Proposals on how a Basic Income could be applied to different stages of the life cycle were outlined as were approaches that would first target those who are most vulnerable such as people with disabilities, the homeless or the working poor.  The papers presented stretched across a wide range of academic disciplines including sociology, economics, social policy, psychology, history and philosophy.

Brigid Reynolds and Seán Healy, Directors of Social Justice Ireland, presented a paper outlining a fully-costed Basic Income system for Ireland. This paper set out the rates of payment at which Basic Income could be set, the full costs and how such a system could be financed. This paper is work in progress and full details will be published in due course. It is also part of Social Justice Ireland’s on-going work on the development of a just society where human rights are respected, human dignity protected, human development promoted and the environment is protected and respected. 
One remarkable feature of the Congress, from an Irish perspective, was the constant presence of members of the Canadian Parliament some of whom attended throughout several days. The presence of Irish parliamentarians at conferences on these issues in Ireland could fairly be characterised as being sporadic and brief.
A further strong Irish resonance could be found in a presentation by John Rook, Chair of Canada’s National Council of Welfare. He told the story of this Council which provides data, analysis and critique on poverty issues but which the new right-wing Canadian Government has decided to close down with almost immediate effect. It was clear that the Canadian Federal Government was not happy to see evidence being produced that challenged its policies. Their approach seemed to be: if the evidence discredited the policies then the group producing the evidence must be closed down!

Another remarkable presentation was made by Dan Meades who heads up Vibrant Communities Calgary in the state of Alberta. Despite the fact that Alberta is one of the richest places on earth in terms of natural resources, it has high poverty rates and deep inequality. Dan’s presentation addressed the issue of ‘Talking Truth to Power: Effectively Communicating Tough Messages on Poverty’. He highlighted the need to tell the truth – a principle that strongly underpins the work of Social Justice Ireland.