Advocates for the disadvantaged met Friday to begin the conversation around guaranteed basic income and make it an election issue.
In a climate of rising food prices and welfare rates that aren't keeping pace, Winnipeg Harvest hosted an event to push basic income as a solution.
David Northcott, executive director of Winnipeg Harvest, says food prices have climbed more than 80 per cent since the year 2000 and food bank use in Winnipeg has soared by more than 30 per cent over that same period.
"People get sicker faster and heal slower if they do not have enough money" - Dr. Joel Kettner
"After 30 years of dealing with the crisis of people needing emergency food, we are calling on the entire community to consider a completely new approach," said Northcott, referring to guaranteed income.
A new lobby group, Basic Income Manitoba, has sent letters to all provincial party leaders to support the move to increase the income of Manitobans who otherwise cannot cover the costs of safe housing, healthy food, clothing, and other basics such as transportation and school supplies.
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"We believe a guaranteed amount of income is critical for people to be full members of society," said Ursule Critophe, co-chair of Basic Income Manitoba, adding the benefits would be significant particularly for those with low income.
Critophe said evidence shows when people have a basic income, they are healthier, stay in school longer and are motivated to work.
"Because people's health — physical and mental health — improves, they are much more likely to feel up to being out and going for employment," she said. "In fact, our own studies in this province indicated that in fact people felt much better and more encouraged about being at work than they did when they felt abandoned by society."
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Dauphin, Manitoba experimented with a guaranteed minimum income in the 1970s.
The 'Mincome project' found having a basic income did not discourage people from working, except for two key groups: new mothers, and teenaged boys who opted to stay in school until graduation. It also found hospital visits declined by 8.5 per cent.
"People get sicker faster and heal slower if they do not have enough money," Dr. Joel Kettner, spokesperson for Winnipeg Harvest's Health and Hunger committee said Friday.
"If health is a basic human right, which I believe it is, then having a basic income that is sufficient to sustain a healthy way of living must be a basic human right, too."
In Ottawa, Liberal MP Robert Falcon Oulette is pushing for government to study guaranteed income.
The Progressive Conservatives have not released a position on guaranteed basic income so far.
The Manitoba NDP said they will announce their plan to tackle poverty on Saturday.