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Generosity, justice and the basic income guarantee

in Columnists/Community/Poverty Reduction by

I was talking about the basic income guarantee to a couple of friends and one of them commented on how the fundraising done for local agencies such as the food bank, the school nutrition program, or the heat bank brings the community together. She was right; events that raise money for important causes do foster community.

Columnist Judy Paul.

But I would like to see generosity and effort mobilized for non-essential programs and services. Think skateboard parks, libraries, and swimming pools. Fundraising results are too unreliable to provide basic necessities. Donations vary depending upon the financial situation of individuals and businesses and are subject to withdrawal at any time.  Donor fatigue is another phenomenon that can diminish fundraising efforts.

If we do not challenge the status quo, I fear we will continue to respond to issues such as food security in a charitable manner because we focus on the value of community fundraising and generous actions. The effectiveness of this response is further reinforced when we read testimonials from recipients describing their appreciation of the help they received. I fully support giving to organizations that make our communities a better place. A charitable response to food insecurity however is not sustainable and it can distract us from the long-term work of justice.

Elaine Power spent many years as a food bank volunteer, including board membership and she came to this conclusion:

“Food banks also serve many unintended functions. To start, those of us who donate, volunteer or participate in food drives “feel good” about making a difference in the lives of others. But we need to look beyond this aspect of our volunteer experiences. Food banks also let governments off the hook from their obligation to ensure income security for all Canadians. They undermine social solidarity and social cohesion by dividing us into “us” (those who give) and “them” (those who receive).  (‘It’s Time to Close Canada’s Food Banks’, Globe and Mail.)

In addition to food banks, school nutrition programs attempt to address food insecurity. These programs are open to all students and thus eliminate any stigma. Children who have food at home, however, are in a different situation than the children who do not have food at home. Parents living in poverty still experience the stress of not being able to provide for their families. A basic income would go a long way to ensuring that families can purchase the food they need. And yes, some kids will continue to attend school without breakfast or lunch, but with a basic income it is less likely the reason would be a lack of food at home. The work of justice is to address the roots of a problem.

I like what Dave Toycen, author of The Power of Generosity says about the connection between generosity and justice: “Some argue that generous charity is a kind of rationalizing of the existing circumstances that create injustice. When relating to the poor, for instance, it is more convenient to give a handout than to address the deeper causes that keep people poor. The former speaks to generosity and the latter speaks to justice. It’s a tension that can separate the one from the other. Generosity without justice is a band-aid that offers one-time encouragement. Justice without generosity is a long-term solution that fails to heal the hearts of those who can make a difference. Together justice and generosity offer a powerful force that can change the world.”

The basic income guarantee is an important structural change but it is not the only justice response needed to achieve a more equitable society. Affordable housing, transportation, daycare, and post-secondary education contribute to greater equality and important outcomes such as increased social mobility, solidarity and innovation.  We all benefit from these progressive developments.

I would sleep much better at night knowing that I am part of a society in which everyone has the means to take care of their basic needs. What a justice response will not give us is gratitude from the people living in poverty, but perhaps we can practice generosity without expectation of any expression of thanks. Instituting a basic income through public spending is no less generous than giving to a food bank. The important difference is that with the stability of a basic income the recipient’s dignity is restored and uncertainty decreased.

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Judy is interested in promoting ideas that shift our society in a more just, sustainable direction. Newly retired, she spent her career facilitating positive change in the areas of adult and family literacy, mental health, community development, and outdoor recreation. As a volunteer, she worked on climate justice issues, peace education with youth, and blogging about local food. Judy lives in Haliburton where she loves to ski, paddle, read and watch the birds.

1 Comment

  1. Mark Hagg
    23 mins ·
    basic income is a sham ,its not what you think . if you get excepted to do surveys you get no benefits like the other group like dental ,internet,drugs or fix your house ,witch they dont tell you till after 6 months of waiting
    they want the people that do the surveys will get paid for surveys will get them as gifts they call them you stand to make as low as 500.00 for the whole time your on basic income
    even if your doing the surveys and in the basic income program you have to stay on the current abusive ont works system .and they want to monitor your bad fortune given to you by the current system and see how bad you do compared to the ones getting paid they already have people on ont works to compare to .im a human lab rat to see if i will not survive or die the elements of the north high hydro,groceries,taxis and no jobs
    i paid my house off and my taxes are paid ,but i cant survive here with no food or heat, so i have to sell in a bad market and stay or board up with no help from this whynne government,i have been asking for help for two years we live on 850.00 a month for two adults and i have to pay 500.00 for hydro and 200.00 for taxes and water and we live on the rest and no jobs and in a small town i want to know the real numbers like how many are getting payed for surveys and the ones that are not and the ones that are getting a check ,i looked all over the internet and only four people the wynne has on her site ,and how many opted out since the government started this program they said it random when infarct they already choose a small amount of people who will receive monthly payments a long time ago , any body since they did this gets a letter after waiting 6 months you get nothing and now they control you on both systems and have all your personal info

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