What is a Basic Income Guarantee?

When grabbing a coffee or tea from your favourite coffee shop you don’t have to worry about food safety or other health threats. Behind the scenes the food preparation area has been inspected and you can eat your muffin in a smoke-free environment – thanks in part to public health’s research and advocacy around helping people stay well.

While being engaged in local communities to prevent disease and injury, Public Health also advocates at the local, provincial and federal levels for policies and legislation that support healthy living.

Recently, our Medical Officer of Health and CEO, Dr. Nicola Mercer, spoke about the merits of a basic income guarantee as part of a panel discussion sponsored by the Guelph & Wellington Task Force to Eliminate Poverty.

A basic income guarantee would provide all Canadians a basic income so if they are working in part-time or low paying jobs, or if they are unemployed, they still have enough income to pay for the very basics of life. An income guarantee would help low-income families and enhance some of current social programs that don’t help get people out of poverty.

This type of social assistance isn’t new. We already do it with Canadian seniors. If fact, Canada has one of the lowest rates of seniors’ poverty in the world because of the Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement. These programs provide seniors with enough income that they don’t spend their retirement in poverty.

Likewise, Canada’s new Child Benefit Program will lift thousands of children out of poverty by providing families with children a payment for each child. Families that earn less will get higher benefits and high-income families will get less or no benefits.

The same concept would be applied to a basic income guarantee so there is an income floor below which no one would fall.

Why is Public Health advocating for a particular economic policy? Because poverty impacts health.

We know there is a link between income and health. British studies that followed workers for decades found a clear link between lower paying jobs and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

More recently, the Wellesley Institute’s report, Poverty is making us sick, found that Canadians with the lowest incomes are more likely to suffer from chronic conditions such as diabetes, arthritis and heart disease.

In fact, it’s estimated that 50 percent of health outcomes are linked to social and economic circumstances.

There is no doubt that having less opportunity for things like gainful employment, educational opportunities, secure housing and a community of support has consequences for a person’s physical and mental health.

One of the biggest factors in determining if we have these things is household income. A basic income guarantee is the kind of social intervention that we support because it can have a lasting impact on health.

If you haven’t heard of a basic income guarantee we wanted to introduce you to the conversation. A great resource to fuel more dialogue is A Basic Income Backgrounder (PDF, 560 kb, 12 pages).

Thanks for joining the conversation about improving health for everybody and reducing healthcare costs. We hope you’ll help us continue the conversation below.

WDG Public Health
Dr. Nicola Mercer Medical Officer of Health and CEO