One of the greatest social determinants of the current health of a society is a basic income. That undisputed variable has not changed, for it is a proven fact that when income levels rise, stressors on heathcare diminish.
Basic income is not new. Canada has provided a basic income for seniors through its OAS (Old Age Security) and Guaranteed Income Supplement, topped up with the addition of a provincial drug card and rent control in municipal and provincial housing, for those that qualify. These benefits do provide a cushion, making facing daily consumer decisions a little easier.
Now mind you, even with these social benefits things still are not easy for seniors. And, it becomes even more tragic when a senior loses a spouse (loss of OAS), as the senior faces the same bills in the household at the end of the month. Therefore, even with our basic security net for seniors federally, provincially and locally, levels of government can always do better.
But what about a basic income for all across the nation, including our youth, those in their roaring twenties, the mid-thirties crisis era and on down until the magical moment of qualifying for OAS? Imagine an income agreed upon as acceptable for all, to cover shelter, transportation, food and other basic daily living costs, an income where the word work is not tied like a millstone, denying opportunity before qualification.
There are many lessons thanks to the pandemic. The one message that prevailed across the entire COVID tragedy was how it divided the nation into two socioeconomic different camps – those that had workplace benefits and those that didn’t. Sadly, way too many government offices and private business outlets were closed, leaving millions of Canadians stranded, seeking to carve a new way as droves of employees cleared out, transitioning to working from home and leaving far too many others – workers on hospital wards, care homes, grocery stores, restaurants, tourism, etc. struggling in the face of so many uncertainties. Many of these same individuals declared as ‘socially essential’ were expected to stand in the line.
Then there were the others. Those in travel, tourism and other service sectors were forced out the door as the economy shut down. So many of these courageous hard working, under paid individuals had no benefits and could not afford to retreat to their homes to wait out the pandemic. A solution had to be found. That solution was CERB (Canada Emergency Response Benefit).
For the first time that one can recall, the federal government raised the bar. Individual Canadians out of work as a result of dramatic downturns in the economy still needed to have their basic financial needs met and, for the most part, it worked. But unfortunately once the pandemic appeared to be behind us, and with things opening up once again across the country, CERB ended. The lesson was powerful. The CERB payment proved that providing a basic income for all Canadians could work.
In this province there are so many disadvantaged residents struggling to keep afloat, struggling under low wages, no benefits, no guaranteed number of hours, and revolving shifts of 30 to 35 hours a week, in what economists define as precarious employment with little in the form of protections. Individual struggle daily to make ends meet in a never-ending cycle of falling behind, trying to stay ahead of a near impossible cycle of regular bill payments.
Supporting the foundation of a guaranteed basic income for all to overcome this cycle of anxiety and stress and subsequently lowering the impact on heath care demands may be the answer. The worst case scene is to do nothing, maintain status quo, viewing nightly broadcasts of individuals camped out in the cold, driven to the streets by costs beyond reach, just to keep a roof over their heads, warm and dry, out of the winter snows, wind and bitter, biting cold.
How would the provision of a basic income for all change things? I just finished reading, “The Case for Basic Income”, co-authored by, Elaine Power, a former resident of Port aux Basques, and Jamie Swift. They developed a case for a universal income in this country. They provide many great take-away quotes, statistics and eye opening examples of socioeconomic injustices, but one quote that stands out by the late Dr. Rudolf Virchow stands out in particular. ’Medicine is a social science and politics is nothing else but medicine on a large scale.’
This is perhaps an understatement of the greatest proportion, but on one fact we can all agree that political decisions do make a difference in health outcomes. A liveable income for all, providing freedom, security and justice is a good start.
Channel-Port aux Basques