Nova Scotia

Is Nova Scotia ready to try a basic income guarantee?

Governments resist paying to prevent poverty but shoulder the costs in health care, criminal justice system and insufficient provincial social programs, say some academics and anti-poverty advocates.

Halifax Central Library hosts public meeting Saturday to discuss price of preventing poverty

Evelyn Forget, author and health economist at the University of Manitoba, is one of the speakers at a meeting about basic income guarantee being held today at the Halifax Central Library. (Submitted by Evidence Network)

As a health economist, Evelyn Forget is most often asked how to keep costs of the health-care system under control and make things more sustainable. That eventually brought her to the issue of poverty.

"One of the things you realize very quickly is a lot of health-care dollars go into treating the consequences of poverty," she said in a phone interview.

The University of Manitoba medical school professor has most recently been considering the question of a basic income guarantee, something she and others will discuss during a free event today at the Halifax Central Library from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Forget has also written a book on the subject.

Principles of the idea include that it helps lift people out of poverty, doesn't require a means test and allows people to participate fully in society.

Meeting life's absolute necessities

Forget said one argument for a basic income is that it makes more sense to "invest up front" in people by taking steps to help them stay healthy, rather than be faced with the consequences of treating them once they become sick and enter the health-care system.

Elizabeth Kay-Raining Bird, a professor at Dalhousie University's school of communication science and disorders, and an organizer of today's event, said a basic income is a tool that provides everyone with the support they need to ensure the most basics in life, such as safe housing and healthy food.

"It allows for them to meet the absolute necessities of their life and this is, in my opinion, a human right. It's a social justice concern and all people should have those supports regardless of if they're working or not, regardless if they have a child or not."

Kay-Raining Bird said her research shows poverty affects child development not only because of less access to healthy food and other supports, but because of the stress that affects parents.

Ontario pilot cancelled after one year

The most recent example of a guaranteed income program in Canada was a pilot in Ontario, which was cut short after just one year when the Progressive Conservatives formed government. That program — which provided about $17,000 to single adults not working, and support on a sliding scale to anyone making up to $34,000 — showed positive results, said Kay-Raining Bird.

Surveys of participants showed some used the money to go back to school or access daycare services so it was easier to go to work or find better housing, she said.

Forget said applying such a plan nationally, which would require help from the federal government, would cost about $23 billion. While the number seems large, Forget notes it isn't any more than what's spent on old age security or guaranteed income supplement programs.

"This is a cost that, for other programs, we've decided we can afford as a country, so we could afford a basic income if we wanted to."

She notes governments already pay the costs of poverty, but in much more inefficient ways through reactionary health-care costs, disproportionate demands on the criminal justice system and insufficient provincial social programs.

About the Author

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca

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