A government-commissioned panel has rejected the idea of introducing a basic income for all in British Columbia, saying the billions of dollars would be better spent patching holes in the social safety net.
The panel’s report, co-authored by academics at the University of B.C., Simon Fraser University and the University of Calgary, said a basic income is not the cure-all that some advocates believe.
The 500-page report released Thursday says there are far more effective ways of helping people, and that its recommendations would help B.C. be a more “just society.”
David Green, the panel’s chair and a professor at the Vancouver School of Economics at UBC, said a basic income project is also not as simple as many believe.
“If we want to address poverty, what simpler way (is there) to proceed than to send everybody a cheque that is equivalent to the poverty line?” he said. “The problem is when you get close to it and you ask, ‘How would I actually implement that?”’
Many Canadians don’t file taxes or aren’t known to the tax system, and a basic income program needs a system that can track people down to ensure they’re receiving the proper amounts, Green said.
The report says conducting a pilot project for a basic income would not provide useful information and raises ethical concerns.
“A basic income would not be the panacea that some advocates believe, with many of the claims about the social issues that a basic income would address unlikely to be true in practice – or at least, it is unclear that a basic income would be the best way to address the issues, if justice is the objective,” the report says.
The report says a more successful strategy would be to reform current policies and programs, while providing targeted basic income for youth aging out of care, women fleeing domestic violence and those with disabilities.
“The top one would be the youth aging out of care. This is a group of great concern and movement could be made on that in every bit as short a time frame as implementing a pilot (project),” Green said.
Improving disability supports could also be done with the sweep of a pen, Green added.
If B.C. adopted the most straightforward form of basic income, where those living at the poverty line are sent a cheque, Green said it would cost the government $52 billion.
That would double B.C.’s budget and would be less cost-effective than implementing the panel’s recommendations estimated at $3.3 billion to $3.5 billion, he said.
The report makes 65 recommendations ranging from extended health supplements to adjusting tax system-delivered benefits, such as aiming B.C.’s child opportunity benefit toward families with children living in poverty.
“We have some hope that some of these will be implemented,” Green said.
The panel’s report says that many of the proposals it makes would be needed even if a basic income program were adopted.
Nicholas Simons, the minister of social development and poverty reduction, said in a statement that his government is reviewing the report.
“The panel has recommended changes to B.C.’s existing social supports and services to address the complex needs and unique circumstances of individuals and families instead of pursuing a basic income model or pilot,” he said.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us how important a strong social safety net is to protect people and the economy.”
The B.C. government commissioned the panel in July 2018 to examine the issue as part of the New Democrats’ minority government confidence and supply agreement with B.C.’s Green party.
Green party Leader Sonia Furstenau called on the provincial government to implement the panel’s recommendations in the upcoming budget.
“These reforms are necessary steps that can be taken immediately towards the goal of establishing a society where no one is left behind, and where everyone has their basic needs met,” she said in a statement.
Floyd Marinescu, the founder of UBI Works, a universal basic income advocacy group, said the report frames the debate in what he called an “old school” view.
“We take the position a basic income is about much more than reducing poverty, it’s also about economic reform,” he said in an interview.
A basic income would lead to economic reforms that could reduce poverty, he said.
“We see basic income in the context of this massive disruption in how our economy works and as a solution to ensure that particularly the bottom half of earners ... are getting their share of an economy that is growing without them.”
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.