Hamilton

Hamilton's basic income participants plead for city to fight for them

One by one, participants in the province’s basic income pilot project came to the microphone at Hamilton City Hall Wednesday to mourn the dignity they felt was robbed from them after the program was unceremoniously scrapped.

People getting basic income payments say the program let them feel dignity

Chris Labenski was part of the control group in the basic income pilot project. Though he wasn't receiving an increased income connected to the project, he felt compelled to tell Hamilton city councillors Wednesday that they should do everything in their power to fight to save it. (Adam Carter/CBC)

One by one, participants in the province's basic income pilot project came to the microphone at Hamilton City Hall Wednesday to mourn the dignity they felt was robbed from them after the program was unceremoniously scrapped.

Some spoke about how their mental health had vastly improved while the program was running. Others talked about how it helped them focus on work, and growing a small business. Still others celebrated the small victories of being able to buy fresh food, or just see a movie.

For Michael Hampson, the program afforded him something as simple as being able to buy new clothes.

"They make me feel special. It's like my Sunday clothes every day now," Hampson told councillors at the city's healthy and safe communities committee.

"It makes me feel dignified, even when society didn't see my dignity."

Michael Hampson was a basic income recipient. He spent years on the Ontario Disability Support Program previous to that, where there is nothing but "stress and meagre income," he says. (Adam Carter/CBC)

But now, questions swirl about his newfound quality of life. Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod announced late last month that the province would be "winding down" the program — which one researcher says is happening before any results could be gleaned from it, making it impossible to determine whether or not it was a success.

MacLeod has not given a timeline for the program to end. The news has spurred backlash from the opposition parties, who say the government is cutting support from those who need it most.

I am not lazy, and I am not entitled, I am just disabled. I find the belief that people like me do not want to work or contribute to society offensive.- Ian Masterman, basic income recipient

The pilot project started in April 2017. It was originally set to last three years, and explore the effectiveness of providing a basic income to those living on low incomes — whether they were working or not.

Under the project, a single person could have received up to about $17,000 a year, minus half of any income he or she earned. A couple could have received up to $24,000 per year. People with disabilities could have received an additional $6,000.

Hamilton moving to denounce project's cancellation

Local participants in the program say its impact can't be overstated. Alana Baltzer said that for the first time in her entire life, she had a full fridge, and full cupboards.

At 29-years-old, she also saw her first movie in theatres in 11 years — The Incredibles 2. She bought her first new winter coat, ever.

Baltzer had also applied to go back to school at Mohawk College. Now, when the letter comes in the mail letting her know if she was accepted or not, she plans to chuck it in the garbage without evening opening it.

"What's the point of learning if I can go or not? I can't afford to pay anything for college," she said.

Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod has said that giving basic income participants money "with no strings attached" goes against the PC government's goal of getting people back on track and making them productive members of society. (CBC)

On Wednesday, the committee passed a motion calling on the city to formally denounce the province's cancellation of the project, and call on the mayor to write the premier on the issue, along with all MPs and MPPs. The motion will go before a full city council vote on Friday.

Ward 4 Coun. Sam Merulla said the province's decision to shutter the program showed "a break of a commitment" and is something "they should be held accountable for publicly."

"Every time the poor are targeted, so are municipalities in this province," he said.

Ward 3 Coun. Matthew Green said people were "deceived" into believing their new lifestyles could be their future.

"If you have any type of decency, and you're watching this right now, and you're not outraged, shame on you," he said.

6,000 Ontarians part of project

The voices heard at city hall were just a sliver of the 1,000 Hamiltonians taking part in the study, which was also happening in Thunder Bay and Lindsay.

Altogether, 6,000 Ontarians were part of the project. Of those, 4,000 got the basic income every month. The others were compensated for filling out surveys for the research project.

Ian Masterman says the basic income project let him finally "consider the future with hope." (Adam Carter/CBC)

Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod has said that giving people money "with no strings attached" goes against the government's goal of getting people back on track and making them productive members of society.

Ian Masterman isn't buying that argument. He deals with several mental illnesses, and has lost most of his vision. He has a university degree, but still has trouble finding work.

"I signed up for the basic income pilot because I was on the verge of losing everything I have," he said. "Ending up on the streets is a concern of mine … at perhaps the most desperate time in my life, the basic income project not only saved me, it improved my life.

"I am not lazy, and I am not entitled, I am just disabled. I find the belief that people like me do not want to work or contribute to society offensive."

adam.carter@cbc.ca

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adam Carter

Reporter

Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Toronto home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.

With files from the Canadian Press

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