‘It’s not really a bold step’ — provincial basic income report misses the mark, according to MP

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Basic income is not the best policy option to improve lives and reduce poverty in B.C., according to an expert panel’s final report.

The 500 page report by a panel of university professors made 65 recommendations to improve existing government programs. The panel was appointed by the provincial government in July 2018 to assess the feasibility of basic income in B.C.

“We have concluded that moving to a system around a basic income for all as its main pillar is not the most just policy option,” reads the report. “The needs of people in this society are too diverse to be effectively answered simply with a cheque from the government.” 

The report recommends a mixed system of improved supports and targeted basic incomes for groups such as youth aging out of government care, women fleeing domestic violence and people with disabilities.

The panel estimated a basic income would nearly double the provincial budget and cost $51 billion, but could eliminate poverty. 

“That’s kind of a ridiculous number because that’s thinking everybody is going to get the same amount without any kind of clawback on it from people who are earning good money,” said Paul Manly, Green Party member of parliament for Nanaimo-Ladysmith.

Manly said he advocates for a universally assessable guaranteed liveable income (GLI) that would be taxed back incrementally as an individual earns more money. He said this model would be more effective than programs such as the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), where people can lose the entire benefit if they earn more than the maximum amount allowed. 

“The whole social safety net we have — our welfare system, requires you to be completely broke and have no assets before you’re eligible,” Manly said. 

A GLI would mean that only people who need assistance receive it. As a person’s income decreases, the benefit kicks in to support them until they no longer need it, he said.

“It’s not really a bold step,” Manly said of the report, which recommends only targeted basic income for certain groups.

Manly said he was pleased the report recommended eliminating the disability assistance program’s eligibility test as part of an overhaul. The application process was difficult, especially for people with cognitive disabilities or mental health issues, according to Manly.

The report said many Canadians do not file taxes, which would be a hindrance to a basic income program that relies on the tax system to keep track of how much people are earning. 

“We need to simplify our tax system, it’s so complicated right now. You’ve got all these different benefits to apply to and all these different tax credits,” said Manly, adding a simplified system would encourage more people to file their taxes.

Basic income could be included in a simplified tax system, keeping track of how much people earn and how much, if any, GLI they are eligible for, according to Manly. 

The report found B.C.’s income and support system comprises 120 provincial programs scattered across 12 ministries through 23 different points of access. Additionally, the federal government provides 72 programs through eight different departments or agencies and 12 different points of access.

Manly said basic income could be funded partially by closing loopholes that allow tax avoidance and offshoring of wealth.

“We have huge inequality in this country and it’s just growing. We’re seeing the billionaire class increasing their wealth and so we need taxes on extreme wealth,” he said.

A basic income system would also save money in the long-term because fewer people would be accessing the healthcare and criminal justice system, according to Manly. A person could receive basic income while taking care of an aging relative, rather than placing them in a long-term care home or hospital, for example.

Nicholas Simons, minister of social development and poverty reduction, said the province would review the report’s recommendations.

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