Governments must implement permanent fix to give hope to poor

Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
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Guaranteed annual income plan must be national in scope

By Gerard Mitchell

homeless

I read the very interesting commentary about a guaranteed annual income for Islanders by Michelle Jay and Jane Ledwell in the December 23rd issue of The Guardian. I look forward to hearing more about the P.E.I. Working Group for a Livable Income’s C-BIG campaign when it rolls out in 2014. I agree with the need for a guaranteed annual income but believe it should be national.

For the sake of the country, the federal and provincial governments should work together to build and deliver a guaranteed annual income plan for all Canadians. We have a pressing need to eliminate the high levels of poverty and inequality that exist in many parts of Canada. The poor and especially their children must be given a chance. It is indefensible that in a country as rich as Canada we have so many who are hungry, cold, unhealthy, uneducated, unemployed and socially excluded.

The 2013 report issued by the advocacy group Campaign 2000 says one in seven Canadian children including (one in four in first nations communities) lives in poverty. According to the report: more families and their children lived in poverty as of 2011 then was the case in 1989 when the House of Commons unanimously resolved to end child poverty by 2000. The same report points out that in 2009 the House of Commons voted to develop an immediate plan to end poverty for all Canada. That hasn’t happened either.

Poverty in Canada has reached crisis proportions. Something big must be done to eliminate it. We cannot afford to allow millions to linger in poverty while we study, debate and tinker with the problem. We need a solution that is fast and effective and we need it now. The best option seems to be to provide a guaranteed livable income for every Canadian. The program could probably be most efficiently delivered through a negative income tax system. The idea not new. It just needs the political will to implement it.

Some argue against a guaranteed income on the basis of cost but it is the cost of the status quo that is unsustainable. The direct and indirect cost of poverty, as Ms. Jay and Ms. Ledwell point out, is staggering. Instead of applying inadequate band-aid solutions that only institutionalize poverty; governments need to implement a permanent fix that will set the poor free, restore their dignity, and give them hope.

A guaranteed income program as an investment in eliminating poverty and inequality should pay huge dividends. The cost of the program could be paid for by savings on other government programs and services that would become obsolete or reduced and by putting in place a more progressive tax system. In the end, the cost of eliminating poverty will be much less than the cost of maintaining it.

Recipients of a guaranteed income would contribute to the economies in the communities where they live by spending the money and paying taxes. The cost of welfare assistance and other anti-poverty programs would be eliminated. Health care costs would be reduced and there would be less crime. In addition to the fiscal savings, society would also benefit from greater inclusion and participation. A guaranteed livable income would pay big dividends in terms of education. Children who have enough to eat and have proper clothing and shelter will be better learners.

Some argue that a guaranteed income encourages idleness and laziness but there is little evidence to support such a claim. Nothing could be more of a work disincentive then some of the present welfare programs which reduce benefits by whatever a recipient earns.

People are generally not poor because they are lazy. In fact, many of the poor work long hours and often have more than one job. On the other hand, there are probably lots of lazy rich Canadians who don’t invest much in Canada and don’t pay their fair share of taxes. Some people might stop working if they had a GI but I believe the vast majority would continue to work to top-up what they receive by way of GI. After all, the GI would only provide a basic minimum. Most would aspire to something more.

- Gerard Mitchell of Charlottetown, a former provincial court judge and former Chief Justice of P.E.I., is the province’s police commissioner.

Organizations: The Guardian, House of Commons, Campaign 2000

Geographic location: Canada, Charlottetown

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