Manitoba has for a long time operated with a very intricate welfare system which was designed to assist those who have been disadvantaged and require monetary assistance in order to survive and make a living. Recently there have been talks about the potential benefits of removing this welfare system in Manitoba entirely and replacing it with what is called a “guaranteed income.”
Discussions about the potential benefits and outcomes of this guaranteed income was hosted by Winnipeg Harvest, and took place on Aug. 22 in an open forum, where everyone was welcome to attend.
Broken down, a guaranteed annual income (GAI) is similar to welfare in that it provides impoverished and unemployed people with a weekly or monthly salary, however, the new guaranteed income would, in theory, widen its net to include all individuals who are living below the poverty line. Unlike the current welfare system, this would include individuals who are employed but do not have a high enough income to provide for their family. This, of course, creates logistical impediments as there is no widely accepted definition of where exactly the poverty line is.
Many people who joined in on the debate about a potential welfare system overhaul appeared skeptical in that they doubted that Manitoba’s NDP government would be willing to implement what many people would see as a radical change.
The proposed benefits of such a system could, however, according to many members of the debate, have a significant impact.
According to Evelyn Forget, a University of Manitoba professor and researcher of Community Health Science, research shows that with the implementation of a guaranteed income there was an increase in people’s health, more students graduated from high school and employment was not decreased from people refusing to work due to the guaranteed income.
It has been claimed that a simplified guaranteed income would allow social workers more time to do more meaningful work, such as helping people with addiction problems, teaching people career skills, and helping them find affordable housing and daycare services. It has also been claimed that such a system could reduce the various poverty services and agencies funded by the government, such as food banks, clothing drives, and various charities.
“The biggest benefit of the GAI,” said Forget, “is the elimination of the extreme oversight and many regulations that are attached to social assistance schemes. It is a largely automatic scheme that treats people like adults, and allows them to take control of their own lives.”
This same guaranteed income system was implemented in Dauphin, Manitoba in the 1970s with very positive prospects. The social experiment, called Mincome, took place from 1974 to 1978 and provided every family of Dauphin with a guaranteed income.
Forget, who conducted a study of Mincome, found that the rates of hospitalization from mental illness and accidents among people of Dauphin where above the average in Manitoba, and after the study commenced these rates dropped to below average. However, once the study was finished the effects started to dwindle and hospitalization rates slowly rose again, but still remained below the previous rates.
The main argument against a guaranteed income policy is that once people are given a guaranteed salary even when they are already employed, people will eventually stop working as they no longer need that income in order to play the bills. Forget found that this was not the case in Dauphin. People continued to work, but now had a little extra money to help support their families and raise their children.
Forget, however, has her doubts as well, to the implementation of a Guaranteed Annual Income for Winnipeg.
“There are certainly challenges with implementing a GAI today. Neither the electorate nor the governing parties are [ . . . ] in a mood to discuss raising taxes to pay for the expansion of social programs and a GAI, if it were to be effective, would require additional resources.”
According to Forget, though, such a system is possible for Winnipeg; it would only require political will to implement it.
“If I were designing such a scheme, I would do it by expanding very significantly a ‘working income tax credit’ which would address the one remaining very large gap in the system,” which is the lack of a supplemental income for the working poor, said Forget.
The issue of a guaranteed income has recently come to light due to that fact that the current welfare system in Manitoba, and Canada as a whole, is increasingly expensive and time consuming. The province has already implemented certain aspects of a guaranteed annual income program which can be seen in the national child benefit and the guaranteed income supplement for seniors.