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More than half of people on basic income behind on bills for two or more months

in Poverty Reduction by

It’s perhaps no surprise that the men and women who were collecting basic income across Lindsay, Thunder Bay, and Hamilton area were in financially challenging circumstances.

Data from the baseline survey shows how difficult their situation actually was. The average share of income spent on shelter was more than 55 per cent, while more than 43 per cent of participants reported they were falling behind in meeting their basic financial obligations.

In fact, more than half were behind on bills two or more months in a row during the previous 12 months. If an unexpected expenditure of $500 occurred, over 43 per cent would not be able to pay.

Given this reality, the use of pawn brokers and payday loan or cheque-cashing services was not uncommon.

Jason says he was “able to get out from under payday loans.”

“I was able to feel dignity in living and hope for being able to maybe buy a cheap car, pay off debt and not being looked down on by my neighbours,” he adds.

In the Basic Income Canada Network’s survey, recipients indicated several positive changes in their financial situation, using a range of strategies.

Leah says she was “able to pay arrear taxes owed to City, otherwise possible foreclosure which was putting me in deep depression and was feeling suicidal.”

Ken said he was “slowly getting out of debt and able to do a little more for myself and (was) a little less depressed — now this program had been cancelled.”

For Hannah, she was able to get rid of her credit card debt “in hopes of soon being able to afford a car.”

Ella says basic income “helped me pay my bills on time.”

Bob was able to save money “because of no late fees and not using credit.”

William was “able to handle financial emergencies that happened.

Celeste says she was “able to focus on school full-time without worrying about paying bills.”

According to research out of Alberta and cited by Environics, it is mostly the working poor – people who are working full-time in low paying jobs who are using payday loan companies.

People who are cash strapped cannot access traditional lines of credit, or access credit cards. When emergency needs occur and then basic needs month to month fall behind, it is payday lenders that have become the financial institutions of low income people, even though it is the most expensive form of consumer loan.

According to ACORN Canada, 15 per cent of Canadians have no access to credit, and can’t access small loans. Credit unions have indicated an interest to provide alternatives and to meet the needs of people in low income.

The survey conducted by BICN involved more than 1,500 of the 4,000 basic income pilot recipients. Now, 424 responses have come back, representing more than 10 per cent of those receiving basic income in Ontario. The Lindsay Advocate is pleased to be the media partner highlighting these stories. Names have been changed to protect identities.

The Ontario Basic Income Pilot was initiated by the Province in 2017 in three areas – Hamilton region, Thunder Bay area, and Lindsay. Four thousand people were involved, with nearly 2,000 of them in Lindsay to see if there would be a community-wide effect, given the smaller population (20,000 people) of the Kawartha Lakes centre. It was set to run for three years. When the PC government was elected in the summer of 2018, it cancelled the program despite a campaign promise to allow it to continue, announcing that payments will only run until March of 2019.

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Roderick Benns is the publisher of The Lindsay Advocate. He is the author of 'Basic Income: How a Canadian Movement Could Change the World,' and is also Vice Chair of the Ontario Basic Income Network. An award-winning author and journalist who grew up in Lindsay, Roderick has interviewed former Prime Ministers of Canada, Senators, and Mayors across Canada. He also wrote and published a series of books for youth about Canada's Prime Ministers as teens.

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