A small but passionate group of people came together in Halifax on Saturday to call for a guaranteed basic income, creating a social safety net that catches everyone.
Basic Income Nova Scotia (BIG-NS) held the rally at Grand Parade to mark International Basic Income Day, with members creating signs and chalk drawings to draw attention to their message.
Mandy Kay-Raining Bird, the group's chair, said social assistance rates in Nova Scotia are too low and people using the program still fall "well, well below" the poverty line.
"Which is why they live with such misery, and which is why the impact on their physical health and their mental health has been shown to be so dramatic," she said.
The current model also has plenty of obstacles and many requirements that are "unnecessary," said Kay-Raining Bird. She said those on assistance are treated as though they can't be trusted.
BIG-NS is part of the national Basic Income Canada Network, which notes there are usually two major models of the strategy.
One is a universal model, which provides the same benefit amount to everyone, and then those with higher incomes have funds taken back through taxes.
The second is a guarantee model, which the Nova Scotia group favours, and takes other income into account right away.
In this model, the person receives the greatest amount when income is very low. When income grows, the amount reduces gradually. Those who have sufficient income from other sources don't get a payment.
Replacing the current social assistance program with a basic income would mean people could finally move into safer housing and buy healthy food, or the little things most people take for granted, said Kay-Raining Bird.
She added that studies have shown a guaranteed basic income would lift people out of poverty and help them pursue meaningful work — with very little going to non-essential items like alcohol, as critics have suggested.
Participants in Ontario's basic income pilot project in 2017 — which was planned for three years but only ran for one —were happier, healthier and continued working even though they were receiving money with no strings attached, according to a recent report.
The report shows nearly three-quarters of respondents who were working when the pilot project began kept going while receiving basic income.
Because the cost of living varies across Canada, there's no single income level that defines poverty. But generally, advocates have talked about setting guaranteed basic income at around $20,000 a year for a single person between ages of 18 and 64.
As someone who relied on provincial disability assistance for years, group member Wayne MacNaughton said being able to tap into Old Age Security benefits and finally get a reliable monthly payment with no strings was a "huge difference."
Every Canadian should be able to experience that relief, MacNaughton said, adding that current income assistance programs just aren't enough and require people to jump through too many hoops.
"It gave me some control over my situation," MacNaughton said.
Kay-Raining Bird's group is calling on the federal and provincial governments to work together on basic income. She said it could be funded in part by a readjustment of the tax system so a greater percentage is paid by those who can afford it.
There has been "a lot of discussion" about a basic income over the past five years or so, said Kay-Raining Bird, with more conversations at a federal level and Prince Edward Island's push for the federal government to contribute funding for a basic income pilot program in the province.
"This is the sort of thing I think that could be the thin edge of the wedge in implementing the basic income across the country. Other provinces can follow," she said.
Two of the calls for justice in the final report from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls also said Canada should establish a guaranteed livable income for all.
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