Quebec to offer basic income for 84,000 people unable to work

The Couillard government plans to provide a basic income for Quebecers who have a severely limited capacity to work, but falls short of offering a basic income for all Quebecers, a demand of many anti-poverty groups.

Couillard government will spend $3B over several years in fight against poverty

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard unveiled his government's $3-billion action plan to fight poverty on Sunday. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Quebecers who have a severely limited capacity to work will gradually be able to access a guaranteed minimum income beginning next year, Premier Philippe Couillard's government announced Sunday.  

The measure is part of a $3-billion action plan to fight poverty and promote "economic inclusion," but falls short of offering a basic income for all Quebecers, a demand of many anti-poverty groups. 

An estimated 84,000 Quebecers would qualify for the minimum income measure, largely those with physical and intellectual disabilities.

Of the 84,000, the vast majority are single people, long a neglected demographic when it comes to poverty reduction programs in Quebec.

By next year, they will see their government assistance increased by at least $73 per month. That figure will reach $440 per month by 2023, bringing their annual guaranteed minimum to $18,029.

The Couillard government also plans to table a bill to amend the Social Aid Act in order to guarantee its basic income provisions.

"We cannot just support employment," said Couillard. "Employment is not the only solution to get out of poverty. It also takes measures like the ones in front of us today."

Parti Québécois Leader Jean-Francois Lisée criticized the proposed basic income measure, saying it only benefits a small portion of the population.

"We're far from the general idea of guaranteed minimum income," he said.

Focus on the job market

The government's anti-poverty plan also proposes additional funding for existing programs, including $286 million for social housing projects and $580 million for social benefits.

Single Quebecers who receive social benefits will see it increased by $180 per year by 2018. In 2021, they will receive about $540 annually.

The plan also includes $40 million to create more kindergarten classes in low-income areas and $300,000 for mental health initiatives.

The province will offer a basic income for Quebecers who have a severely limited capacity to work. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Many of the measures announced Sunday either encourage low-income Quebecers to enter the job market or help them stay employed.

This includes $1.8 million in funding to improve the digital skills of those living in poverty and nearly $34 million for Quebecers who receive social assistance and want to learn more skills.

The measures also come one year after the Couillard government introduced controversial new rules that penalized social assistance recipients who failed to take steps to find a job. 

The $3 billion in spending will be spread out over several years, with the goal of helping 100,000 Quebecers out of poverty by 2023.

In Quebec, an estimated 802,000 people currently live below the poverty line of $18,000 per year for a single person.

Lukewarm reception

Some anti-poverty activists claim the measures don't go far enough to help low-income Quebecers.

Serge Petitclerc, the spokesperson for the Collectif pour un Québec sans pauvreté, said that while those who have severe limitations preventing them from working will receive support, others living in poverty are expected to find employment.

"They're not tackling other categories of people in social need or people living in poverty," said Petitclerc. "It's as if they're creating a division and emphasizing that division."

Basic income should also apply to all Quebecers without conditions, he added.

Serge Petitclerc, the spokesperson for the Collectif pour un Québec sans pauvreté, wants basic income to be offered to all Quebecers. (Radio-Canada)

"By limiting it to a single category of people in Quebec, we're missing the point," he said. "Because one of the primary characteristics of guaranteed minimum income is that it should be unconditional and it should apply to the entire population.

"That's not what's happening right now."

Jean-Paul Faniel, co-ordinator for the Table de concertation sur la faim et le développement social du Montréal métropolitain, said the government's goal "lacks ambition."

"The portrait of poverty is not numbers," he said. "Poverty is people struggling, who are coming from pain and the misery of staying afloat. Poverty is accompanied by a life of misery every day."

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With files from Jaela Bernstien, Radio-Canada and The Canadian Press