Thunder Bay

Cancellation of basic income pilot 'devastating', Lakehead University researcher says

Ontario's basic income pilot project was making a different in the lives of participants, and its cancellation was "devastating," a Lakehead University researcher said.

Program was making a difference in the lives of participants, research shows

A Lakehead University professor is researching the effects the now-cancelled Ontario basic income pilot project had on participants in Thunder Bay.

Ontario's basic income pilot project was making a different in the lives of participants, and its cancellation was "devastating," a Lakehead University researcher said.

Ravi Gokani, associate professor at Lakehead's School of Social Work, has been speaking to people who participated in the pilot, people who didn't, and community organizations about the impact the pilot had on the community.

Thunder Bay was one of the cities in Ontario chosen to participate in the project, which provided up to $17,000 per year to those who qualified for the program.

The goal was to study what impact that funding had on things like health, housing, and employment; the Doug Ford government, however, abruptly cancelled the program last March, earlier than expected.

"It's been devastating to the people that I've spoken to," Gokani said. "Some people had plans in place, and so they've been able to cope a little bit better. Others have not coped as well."

"Most of the people that I've spoken to that had been on the pilot are back on some form of social assistance."

Gokani began collecting data about the pilot program in the fall, and that process is ongoing.

However, he spoke about some of his preliminary findings on CBC Thunder Bay's Superior Morning this week.

"One of the surprising things that comes up is that many of the people that we speak have a history of trauma, sexual and physical abuse, often, in childhood or adolescence," he said. "This, as you might imagine, undercuts the narrative on poverty, that it's simple to just get a job if you're struggling with poverty."

Gokani said other preliminary findings have shown those who were part of the basic income pilot report their mental health improved.

"Many of the people that I speak to struggle with depression or anxiety, or some form of mental illness," he said. "Being on the Ontario basic income pilot relieved, or alleviated, those symptoms."

The pilot also helped with food security, Gokani said.

"One person spoke about being able to purchase asparagus for the first time," he said. "Other people spoke about being able to plan meals ahead, or purchase cuts of meat."

Gokani is still collecting data, and wants to hear more thoughts about the basic income, both from those who support it, and those who don't.

He hopes to present some of the findings in March. He can be reached through Lakehead University.

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