The Case for a Universal Basic Income

  • Graphic: Caity Hall

There’s an unconventional idea that’s beginning to spread in the world—the idea that people are entitled to enough money to survive, whether or not they work.

This is the concept behind Universal Basic Income—the idea of providing each individual citizen an unconditional income on a regular basis, funded either by a government or public institution.

This idea could possibly provide solutions to a series of issues that have plagued countries across the globe, such as poverty, homelessness and unemployment.

Finland is currently in the process of experimenting with UBI, and, according to the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, UBI can primarily promote employment, or at least that’s the goal they have in mind.

With recent news that two of Canada’s richest men have wealth equal to the poorest 30 per cent of the population, it’s clear that income inequality needs to be fought. The fact that a whopping 80 per cent of the global population currently lives on less than $10 a day must be addressed.

By providing citizens with a stable, unconditional, basic and liveable income, individuals living in the streets and in poverty will be provided a life-changing opportunity.

Imagine yourself without a roof over your head or a job to rely on. You can barely manage to feed and clothe yourself, or even worse, your family, on a daily basis. You spend a lot of your time trying to figure out how you’ll get through the day. It’s hard to imagine you’d have the energy or the resources to find a job.

But what if that key foundation, that essential basis that you can climb onto and grab a hold of, was provided to you, and every other person, unconditionally?

A world of possibilities lies within UBI. In order to facilitate and encourage those who struggle financially, we must not only demand that they use their legs to walk, but show them how. Providing someone with that basic and ever so necessary boost can reduce, if not eradicate, poverty.

Another consideration when looking at the benefits of a fixed UBI can be assessed by taking a look at recent predictions on job loss. According to John Kerry, former U.S. Secretary of State, 85 per cent of job loss in the United States is due to technology. This means that keeping a roof over our heads is going to be an increasingly difficult struggle as technology progresses and more employees are replaced by machines.

While this issue has been addressed as a potential problem in the future, not much has been done to deal with it, and it’s unlikely that technology will slow down for the sake of saving jobs. So what can be done to combat severe job loss due to human resources being replaced by robots?

The solution is universal basic income. Giving people a basic income to work from will keep people from drowning in financial loss, and help to provide more jobs. By providing money to work up from, those who are already working may be able to afford taking off an excessive workload, and those who previously couldn’t find jobs because of severe living conditions will have room to join the workforce.

Several studies have already been conducted to test the effectiveness of introducing UBI, and the results have been positive thus far.

In India—where a UBI pilot program was implemented in some villages—nutrition improved, particularly in women, and work shifted from casual wage labour to more self-employment. Giving people a foundation helped prompt those who normally would not have been able to find work to create businesses and farms themselves.

A study was also done during the 70’s in some cities in Manitoba. Results showed that providing a guaranteed annual income brought most recipients above Canada’s poverty line. Interestingly enough, they experienced an increased high school graduation rate, fewer births before the age of 25 and far fewer mental health hospitalizations.

UBI has the potential to change lives for the better.

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