Pilot Lessons: How to design a basic income pilot project for Ontario

Submitted by Alison Homer on October 21, 2016 - 11:31am

The Government of Ontario has committed to conducting a Basic Income pilot project as part of a comprehensive reform to the province's social assistance programs. 

A Basic Income model guarantees all of its citizens a regular predictable income sufficient to live a basic but dignified life. Models are most often negative income tax based, and are delivered through refundable tax credits where people receive less as income increases, and where benefits can be either taxable or non-taxable.

In thir publication, Pilot Lessons: How to Develop a Basic Income Pilot Project for Ontario, the Mowat Centre, Centre for Social Innovation, and the University of Toronto, respond to this commitment. The report offers some key lessons learned, pertinent considerations, and evidence-based recommendations for the design of Ontario's Basic Income pilot, based on analyes of previously implemented Basic Income models.

The authors state that motivation for the pilot project came from “a growing view at home and abroad that a basic income could build on the success of minimum wage policies and increases in child benefits by providing more consistent and predictable support in the context of today’s dynamic labour market,” and that such a program could “provide a more efficient way of delivering income support, strengthen the attachment to the labour force, and achieve savings in other areas, such as health care and housing supports.”

Examples of how Basic Income can help:

  • It can help fill the gap of the ill-fit that has developed between existing social assistance programs and changing realities, for example, by accounting for people between jobs, who have been laid off, who are retired, who work precariously, and who work temporary contracts.
  • It reimagines the definition of meaningful work, ensuring that every individual is sufficiently financially secure to contribute to the broader community in ways other than the wage labour market, for example through volunteering or care work.
  • It creates benefits beyond income that extend to health, justice, and child welfare, for example through reduced hospitalization rates, increased high school graduation rates, positive effects on birth rates, reduced bureaucracy, and stimulated economic growth.
  • It provides people with more choice and time to focus on skill development, for example allowing them more time to plan business ventures and build client bases.
  • It reduces risk of those wanting to become entrepreneurs and increases innovation by encouraging talented individuals to try new things, and by reducing the trade-off between security of a full time job, and the risk of starting something new. 
  • It cushions against changes of precarious employment and unemployment as our country adjusts to technological trends such as automation.

The authors conclude that Basic Income is a legitimate policy option if it is conceptually well-developed, empirically tested in other contexts, aligned with current trajectories in Canadian policy-making, and cautiously approached to maximize economic and social benefit with a solid pilot and with an appropriate definition/measure for the poverty line.

“By committing to conduct a basic income pilot Ontario stands poised to take up a position at the forefront of global social policy innovation. The manner in which Ontario conducts this pilot and the conclusions drawn from it will be of interest worldwide. It is unsurprising then that for basic income advocates and sceptics alike, getting the details of this pilot’s design right will be essential."

Read the full publication here.

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