The local Health Unit is strongly urging the Ontario government to reverse course and at least see the Basic Income Guarantee through to the end of its original three-year pilot phase.
A letter containing this message has been sent to the provincial government on behalf of the Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge (HKPR) Board of Health, which in 2016 endorsed a position statement calling for a Basic Income Guarantee pilot program in Ontario. The position statement cited the fact that eliminating poverty is an urgent public health issue, as people on low income are more likely to have health problems and die younger than people with higher income.
The Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit considers it ‘extremely concerning’ that the Basic Income Guarantee program is being cancelled, only months into what was to have been a three-year pilot phase. More than 4,000 people in Lindsay, Hamilton-Brant and Thunder Bay were taking part in the trial program, with each being guaranteed a minimum level of income.
“The Province’s decision is extremely concerning because the Basic Income Guarantee was an innovative program that had the potential to pay dividends in the fight against poverty,” says Kristina Nairn, a social determinants of health nurse with the HKPR District Health Unit.
“We are urging the provincial government to reconsider its decision, because the research from Ontario’s pilot program would have been invaluable” in seeing if it could cut poverty and improve education and job prospects, among other things, says Nairn.
Nairn notes that not only the 4,000 people – including about 2,000 Lindsay residents – enrolled in the pilot will be negatively affected by the program’s cancellation, but the estimated 1.7 million Ontarians currently living in poverty will be affected as well.
“Basic Income Guarantee is a key approach that could help reduce the economic barriers to good health and ensure low-income individuals and families have sufficient income to meet their basic needs and live with dignity,” she adds. “Without this research from the pilot program, we will never know for sure, and I think all of us in Ontario are poorer because of it.
“In our own region, we see how poverty takes a human and social toll that hurts the community and leads to higher health care costs,” adds Mary-Lou Mills, a social determinants of health nurse with the HKPR District Health Unit.
“The program had the potential to save taxpayer dollars, by reducing hospital emergency room visits, hospitalizations, work-related injuries, and mental health treatment. Participants in the Lindsay pilot have already experienced benefits…in terms of improved housing, ability to further education to improve employment opportunities, ability to purchase more nutritious food and reduced reliance on food banks”.
Seeing the three-year pilot program through to the end would have provided a clearer picture of its potential benefits. As Mills notes: “In many ways, the Basic Income Guarantee approach mirrors other successful policies like the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors.”
The Lindsay Advocate organized a rally on August 7 that drew upwards of several hundred people to Victoria Park to protest against the cancellation of the pilot. Stories continue to come into the Advocate about how the loss of the program is creating financial and emotional havoc in people’s lives.