Special to The Guardian
In April, Conservative Senator Claude Carignan made a comment in the red chamber that should make young people from coast-to-coast-to-coast furious. Pointing to the supposed work disincentives of benefits such as the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) or the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), the senator described a scenario in which students did not pursue summer jobs, but were instead “hanging out by the pool, most likely at their parents’ house.” As a recent graduate with pool-less parents, I think something about this doesn’t add up.
In the same chamber, another group of nearly 50 senators has called for an alternative approach to the frequent announcements of new benefits by a government scrambling to respond to COVID-19. Less concerned with the imagined sunbathing habits of today’s youth, these senators propose a guaranteed livable income – and they’re not alone.
The idea isn’t new, but it’s having a resurgence. With op-eds in major newspapers, endorsements from the federal Greens and NDP, and despite the cancelled Ontario pilot project, a basic income is seemingly on everyone’s radar.
As a long-time supporter of basic income, I’m thrilled. But in all this, I’m left wondering: what are young people thinking?
The youth case for basic income is dynamic and multi-faceted, and ignoring it would be a mistake. Earlier this year, I joined forces with a group of young people to establish the Basic Income Canada Youth Network. Over the past few months, we’ve been speaking with youth across the country.
For many youth we’ve encountered, the logic behind supporting a basic income is straightforward. It could provide a much-needed foothold in housing and rental markets that feel increasingly inaccessible. With collective Canadian student debt a whopping $28 billion as of 2018, it would make it easier to enter and remain in post-secondary education. And given that young people are disproportionately concentrated in precarious work, a basic income responds to the reality that having a job doesn’t necessarily mean being able to put food on the table.
Others pointed to equally important arguments. A basic income could be life-saving for youth aging out of care who are cut off from other supports. It could relieve financial pressure on those expected to care for parents or guardians, or provide a cushion for LGBTQ2S+ youth to leave non-affirming or unsafe living situations. Youth in Canada are on the front lines fighting for everything from climate justice to reconciliation, yet the activism which pushes for systems change rarely pays the bills. A basic income, however, would.
Of course, some remain wary of basic income. But for young people living with the consequences of the generations before us, an income floor is common-sense policymaking – especially given its proven affordability in Canada. We’re grappling with climate change, under- and unemployment, and rising costs of living – and that was before the ravage of a pandemic.
Others will fail to see the relevance of youth to this argument. I’d remind them that 15-to-34-year-olds made up more than one-quarter of Canada’s population as of 2019, with recent public opinion research finding that youth are the age demographic most likely to favour a basic income. We bring a diversity of experiences and perspectives that enrich the case for a basic income – not to mention the energy and voting power to make it happen.
Youth in this country are powerful, intelligent, and resilient. Many of us will live through not one, but two economic crises before turning 25. We deserve to be heard in conversations where decisions that will drastically affect our lives are made.
Now is the time for a basic income in Canada, and youth are mobilizing to make it happen. Our concerns, experiences and needs must be valued as we work towards a country where this is a reality. Until then, don’t go looking for me at any pools.
Chloe Halpenny is the vice-chair of the Basic Income Canada Youth Network. She holds a master’s degree from the University of Cambridge, where her research focused on participant experiences in the Ontario Basic Income Pilot. This piece was submitted with permission to The Guardian by Marie Burge, P.E.I. representative on Coalition Canada: basic income/revenu de base.