One of the organizers of a conference featuring sessions about basic income said she hopes the all-day event will teach attendees how a universal basic income (UBI) can help address issues such as housing, poverty, and living on income assistance.

Basic Income Nova Scotia Society is organizing the conference, which will take place on Saturday, in venues in Halifax and Sydney, as well as via Zoom.

Dr. Elizabeth Kay-Raining Bird, a professor at Dalhousie University who advocates for UBI with Basic Income Nova Scotia Society, said there are still misconceptions about basic income that speakers at the conference will address. Those misconceptions include that UBI is too expensive, causes inflation, and discourages people from wanting to work.

“There have been a variety of ways developed to pay for a basic income that would ensure that it is affordable,” Kay-Raining Bird said in an interview with the Halifax Examiner on Tuesday. “These are some of the issues we want to address.”  

The conference schedule includes several panels with various speakers with lived experience or research expertise who can speak to how a basic income can address societal issues.

Dr. Jeff Karabanow, a professor of social work at Dalhousie University, will give a talk on housing insecurity and basic income.

Kay-Raining Bird said a basic income can help address homelessness and affordable housing in the province. And she points to previous projects on basic income for evidence.

In 2017, people living in three communities in Ontario received a basic income from a pilot project in that province. While the project was cut short, an evalution published in 2020 showed that many of those who received the basic income used it to rent better housing.

In 2018, an organization called Foundations for Social Change and the University of British Columbia provided a one-time payment of $7,500 to unhoused people in Lower Mainland BC. A year later, the study found the participants used the funds to move into stable housing. They also became more food secure and spent less on drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes.

“I think all of these issues people need to understand so they can be more empathetic to people who find themselves in such dire circumstances,” Kay-Raining Bird said.

“We in Canada need to think about implementing a basic income for everyone who needs it. We need to stop this notion of the deserving poor and the undeserving poor and recognize that everybody deserves to have their basic needs met.”

Basic income and living in poverty

Another group of experts will discuss how a basic income might help people living in poverty or earning income assistance. That panel includes people with lived experience in poverty and living on income assistance, as well as experts who study the effects of living in poverty. Speakers include Kendall Worth, Aron Spidel, Eric Jonsson, Dr. Joan Salah, and Dr. El Jones.

A panel of speakers that includes Charles Plante, Sheila Regehr, Liam Wilkinson, Rob Fennell, and Lars Osberg will discuss the cost of poverty and social return on investment with a basic income, paying for a basic income, progressive reforms/fair taxation, and why trends in income distribution make a basic income desirable.

In the afternoon, a panel of youth from various organizations will talk about how a basic income can help young people who are struggling with housing, low-paid work, and more.

“In order to get a job, oftentimes they’re required to engage in more and more education. It used to be you could get a good paying job with a high school diploma and now you need a college degree to get a decent job. And those jobs aren’t necessarily available,” Kay-Raining Bird said.

“There’s a lot of talk about the housing crisis and how it’s affecting students in universities and trying to pursue education and trying to find affordable housing in cities like Halifax and Sydney. Housing is something that student and youth are struggling with, especially since they find themselves trying to survive on low-paying jobs.”

Kay-Raining Bird said the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) that was rolled out during the COVID-19 pandemic was a good example of how a UBI could work across the country.

“Creating CERB, rolling it out easily so that it was accessible very quickly to people showed the federal government that, yes, really important income supports could be implemented in a simple way without requiring people to jump through hoops that is required in social assistance programs.” 

CERB also pointed out another benefit of a basic income in that it gave people choices about the work they do. Some workers used the time they received CERB to move onto other jobs, go back to school, and rethink their careers. CERB also assisted people with precarious incomes or working low-paying jobs.

“Gig workers, musicians, artists, for example, have a very hard time living off of their art or their music, and so they have to spend a lot of their time working part-time low-paying jobs to make ends meet,” she said. “A basic income could support those workers and allow them to focus their attention on what they do best.” 

There are jurisdictions creating pilot programs to offer basic incomes to targetted groups. Kay-Raining Bird said programs in US cities like Philadelphia and San Francisco offer a basic income to pregnant people.

“The data shows these women are at a particular risk for having premature births and there are long-term consequences for that,” Kay-Raining Bird said. “The health of children is compromised because women are living in poverty.”

PEI could offer example for implementing a basic income

PEI has been in discussions for the last number of years to implement a basic income project in that province. In 2020, a Special Committee on Poverty in PEI submitted its final report, which recommended that the province begin negotiations with the federal government to implement a province-wide basic income program.  

Kay-Raining Bird said no negotiations have taken place so far, but a “proposal team” that includes economists, former federal MPs, sitting PEI MLAs, policy experts, and advocates has been working to develop a federal-provincial demonstration project. That proposal team addresses some of issues around UBI, including cost, financing, labour participation, and how the federal and provincial governments can cooperate on such a project. The goal is to offer a demonstration project for about five to seven years.  

“I see PEI as potentially being the province to begin the rollout of a basic income just as Saskatchewan began the rollout of our socialized medical system,” she said.

There is no cost to attend the conference and attendees at the in-person events will receive a free lunch. Kay-Raining Bird said this conference is a chance for Nova Scotians to learn more about the societal benefits of UBI.

“They are going to learn good, evidence-based information that will help them to make up their own minds about a basic income,” she said. “Hopefully, it will convince people that this is something we can do, we should do, and they will join with other voices that are being raised to have a basic income implemented.” 

The Basic Income Nova Scotia conference runs from 9:30am to 5pm at Paul O’Regan Hall at the Halifax Central Library and at the Eltuek Art Centre in Sydney. Guests can also join the conference via Zoom at this link.

Click here to learn more.

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Suzanne Rent

Suzanne Rent is a writer, editor, and researcher. You can follow her on Twitter @Suzanne_Rent and on Mastodon

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  1. It is far past time that UBI became a reality in all of Canada. We don’t need to so any more studies or pilot projects. If we want the country and society to grow and become vialble for all we need UBI started as soon as possible.

  2. As someone who works in bankruptcy and insolvency, I am all for this. I would rather see myself out of a job if it means a large part of our population can finally LIVE instead of barely scraping by, resorting to desperate measures just to make rent and eat, or finding themselves having to live in a tent in a heartless city that would rather see you dead.
    Universal Basic Income is the best tool we can implement to lower poverty and crime rates, increase mental health stability, boost the economy, and allow people to breathe easier regarding their housing and food situations. It just makes sense.