News Release

If not a basic income, then what?

April 25, 2023 Print

New IRPP book provides a roadmap for fixing the shortcomings in Canada’s social safety net

Montreal — For decades, Canadian governments have tried to tackle poverty, unemployment, precarious work and unaffordable housing using numerous programs and policies, yet significant gaps remain. While implementing a basic income has often been put forward as a potential solution, a new book published by the Institute for Research on Public Policy argues that fixing the shortcomings in Canada’s social safety net can best be achieved with a suite of policy tools.

In Basic Income and a Just Society: Policy Choices for Canada’s Social Safety Net, some of Canada’s leading public policy researchers offer one of the most comprehensive evaluations of a basic income ever undertaken and use that as the basis for an in-depth analysis of the need for social policy reform across Canada. While embracing the spirit of basic income proponents, the authors conclude that the best solution lies in reforming existing programs. Replacing current policies with a basic income would be more complex, costly and generally less effective.

“We caution against relying on any single policy tool, particularly one that is centered on a ‘simple’ cash benefit,” says UBC economics professor David Green, one of the book’s lead authors. “We don’t believe there is one simple system that can fix all the problems. Rather, we view the issues to be addressed as multidimensional, requiring a suite of responses.”

To design a support system to achieve a more just society — one that promotes self- and social respect for all — the authors propose setting reform priorities based on the following broad policy principles and directions:

  • Provide adequate support — Disability and regular income assistance benefits should be raised, although for some, adequacy and effective support could be better achieved through an earnings supplement or changes to Employment Insurance.
  • Give voice to those affected by programs — Those receiving assistance should be treated as equal partners in helping to make existing social programs and services more effective and just.
  • Make community-building a tenet of policymaking — Beneficiaries would be best served through effective public services and strong community connections as well as financial assistance.
  • Place the labour market at the centre of reforms — Governments need to address several labour market trends that have eroded worker rights and income security, including the emergence of app-based companies, a shift to “fissured workplaces” and the steady decline in unionization rates.
  • Adopt a common benefits platform — Develop a common benefits platform based on consistent definitions and measures of income and family status that could be used for eligibility assessment and as a delivery mechanism across public programs.
  • Conduct ongoing evaluations of policy changes — Proposed policy changes should be rolled out incrementally, with evaluation and consultations with affected groups conducted at every step.

University of Calgary economist and co-lead author Lindsay Tedds sees this roadmap put forward by the book as an important step in the right direction: “Ultimately, a basic income is not a magic bullet that can easily fix the problems with Canada’s social safety net. The call for change put forward by basic income proponents is a worth embracing, but we should use an array of policy tools to get there.”

To purchase a copy of the book, visit the IRPP Shopify store.

To take part in the book launch on April 26 in Toronto, register here.

Media Contact

Cléa Desjardins
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