Hamilton

Survey results from basic income project reveal housing, mental health struggles

Just days before a lawyer’s challenge of the cancelled basic income pilot project goes to court, data from a survey examining the lives of the participants at the start of the program has finally been released.

Responses show issues with mental health, housing and food security

This woman is one of the basic income pilot project recipients to be featured by photographer Jessie Golem in her photo essay about the damage done by the cancellation of the project. (Jessie Golem/Humans of Basic Income)

Just days before a legal challenge of the cancelled basic income pilot project goes to court, data from a survey examining the lives of the participants at the start of the program shows the intense stress many of them were living under every single day.

The data was pulled from a questionnaire conducted for the province by St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, and released Tuesday by the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction.

It offers a snapshot into the living conditions of the program's 4,000 residents from Hamilton, Thunder Bay and Lindsay when they signed up for basic income.

"It reinforced just how desperate many people's housing situations were," said Tom Cooper, director of the roundtable.

Under the program, recipients were to receive a maximum of $16,989 per year regardless of their employment status. People in the program said basic income helped their health, self-esteem and employment prospects.

(Ontario Basic Income Pilot Baseline Survey: Preliminary Analysis/Laura Cattari)

But not long after taking office, the PC government announced it would cut the program, with the last cheques going out in March.

Premier Doug Ford said the pilot was too expensive, adding the best way out of poverty is "something called a job."

Here are some snapshots from the survey data in Hamilton:

33% of participants employed

According to the survey, 33 per cent of respondents said they were currently employed, compared to 20 per cent who were unemployed, and 47 per cent who were "not in the labour force."

The distinction here is "unemployed" means people who looked for work in the last four weeks or were on a temporary layoff.

(Ontario Basic Income Pilot Baseline Survey: Preliminary Analysis/Laura Cattari)

The survey also found 12.6 per cent of respondents had two or more jobs.

Many advocates of the project argued that a large portion of recipients were working — but it appears also that many were not able to, with 70.6 per cent of respondents saying they were unable to work due to a disability.

Homelessness and housing issues

The survey also outlined a wealth of problems with housing among the respondents.

Just over eight per cent said they had been homeless in the last year, and 2.4 per cent of respondents said they were "presently homeless."

The average monthly shelter cost (which included either rent/mortgage payments and utilities) was listed at a little over $743, with shelter costs eating up over 57 per cent of monthly incomes.

(Ontario Basic Income Pilot Baseline Survey: Preliminary Analysis/Laura Cattari)

Then there was the 49.6 per cent of respondents who said housing was "severely unaffordable," while 27.1 per cent said it was simply "unaffordable." On the other side, 23.3 per cent said they found their housing to be affordable.

"This reinforced just how desperate many people's housing situations were," Cooper said. "A huge number of people were spending upwards of 50 per cent of their incomes on rent. That's certainly not sustainable."

Food security

Cooper says food security was another issue that jumped out when he went over the data.

Only 18.2 per cent of respondents said they were "food secure," while  53.1 per cent of respondents reported "severe food insecurity."

"You have people perhaps missing meals, or making sure kids eat instead of themselves," Cooper said.

(Ontario Basic Income Pilot Baseline Survey: Preliminary Analysis/Laura Cattari)

Mental Health

The report also shows a large number of respondents were dealing with mental health and stress issues.

Startlingly, almost 40 per cent of respondents in Hamilton reported enduring severe psychological distress, with 44.2 per cent of people reporting "moderate psychological distress."

Only 16.8 per cent of respondents reported being not psychologically distressed.

"This speaks to the distress in your life when you're living on a low income," Cooper said.

For a full roundup of the responses, you can read the report here.

adam.carter@cbc.ca

About the Author

Adam Carter

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

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