A coalition of nearly 4,000 individuals and organizations is calling on the federal government to implement a guaranteed basic income to address the systemic gender inequities exposed and intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Citing the disproportionate economic impact of the pandemic on women, who have suffered greater job losses compared to men, and the inability of employment insurance to assist most unemployed women before the pandemic, the coalition of women’s groups and basic income advocates says now is the time for Canada to implement a basic income.
“The human rights of women and children are really under a lot of pressure,” said Josephine Grey, a member of the Basic Income Network Canada. “It’s unbearable for me as a grandmother.”
Women’s participation in the labour force is at its lowest level in 30 years, according to a recent study by the Royal Bank of Canada, while domestic violence has increased in some parts of the country by up to 30 per cent.
“The number one reason why a lot of women don’t leave an abusive partner is because they don’t have the financial resources to do so,” said Tracy Smith-Carrier, a professor in the School of Social Work at Western University.
A guaranteed basic income could take many forms, but in essence it is an automatic, unconditional cash payment delivered by the government to all individuals on a periodic basis. It would, theoretically, replace other government assistance programs — such as Employment Insurance and welfare — that critics say are insufficient, administratively onerous and exclusionary.
With the pending expiration of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), which paid $2,000 a month to 8.5 million Canadians who lost income as a result of the pandemic, calls have been growing for it to be replaced by a permanent basic income.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is scheduled to make his throne speech on Sept. 23, when he’ll lay out the government’s COVID recovery plans. The minority Liberals will need the NDP’s support to avoid a fall election, and basic income advocates are hopeful the political winds are in their favour.
Earlier this month, federal Labour Minister Filomena Tassi said the government is considering a guaranteed basic income. “Everything is on the table for us as we move forward,” she said.
This past weekend, Liberal MPs made implementing a guaranteed basic income their top policy resolution for consideration at the party’s national convention in November.
Noting that the COVID-19 pandemic had “exposed serious gaps in our federal and provincial social safety nets, and its economic fallout has disproportionately affected women, youth and financially insecure workers,” the resolution called on the party to take advantage of the “unique opportunity today to rethink the Canada of tomorrow.”
Smith-Carrier said Canada’s current system of social assistance addresses only the symptoms of poverty, where a basic income would “allow us to actually provide income security for everybody.”
Ontario launched a basic income pilot project in three communities in 2017, but Doug Ford cancelled the project soon after he was elected premier in 2018.