By PAT WATSON
Now that the half-measure of raising the minimum wage in Ontario to $11 per hour is in place, and now that it has been indexed to inflation, maybe we can get back to the more radical but lifesaving matter of advancing a guaranteed minimum income for all people across this country.
The fact is that the income of a person working at a full-time job in Ontario at the current minimum wage still has that person living below the poverty line, widely marked at $23,000 annually.
That may seem like money to some people, but try paying for shelter, a proper diet, transportation and clothing on that income. Forget about going to the movies or a concert or other recreational activities. Of course, you are always free to go sit in a park.
The time to begin organizing for a guaranteed minimum income and pushing for it is long past. And if the people most affected by this don’t do it, then who will?
During the recent provincial election the closest any politician came to putting poverty issues into their platform was the Liberal government’s talk of building up transportation infrastructure. Meaning, a more efficient public transit system would enable more people to get to places where they can have a job, and with less travel stress.
The proposition may smell of socialism to the suspicious and those who just hate poor people, but it was arch-conservative U.S. president Richard Nixon who put the idea forward in capitalism-loving America back in the 1960s.
The matter is also not without precedent in Canada. In Dauphin, Manitoba, a four-year pilot project running from 1974-1978 and sponsored by that province and the federal government of the day saw tremendous results. Dauphin residents below a certain income level were provided with a minimum income over the period of the $17-million project. The goal was to understand how this could factor into creation of future social policy.
What happened was that in Dauphin overall health improved, hospital admission rates declined and employment actually went up.
So much for the idea that people will live off the “dole” if given the chance. This kind of read of the way people really are is mean-spirited and bears little resemblance to reality. People like to have something meaningful to do on a regular basis. The notion that what we truly crave is a life of entire leisure is pure fantasy. Years ago, this was very apparent to this observer in a social housing setting where some individuals had all their financial concerns taken care of, but who for health reasons could not work. Those who could not participate by giving back to their community were the unhappiest.
People want to feel useful, not useless. What a minimum income would do is take the kind of fear that expresses in worry about daily survival away and allow people now living in poverty to get on with participating in society as they can best do.
When people have a reasonable means of survival, that is, income, there are many positive outcomes. When stress of money goes down, health improves. It is a very simple equation that is beyond question. This would put fewer burdens on our already overly costly healthcare system. That would in turn allow for more focus on the types of healthcare services that are currently being de-listed.
When income is assured crime also decreases. In fact, one of the greatest crimes against humanity is the refusal to make a full-frontal assault against rampant poverty. When there is less poverty, less money needs to be spent on social programs to shore up the poor rather than moving them into a decent standard of living. We need to take this seriously. How can we keep moving into the future making the same societal mistakes of depriving one another, millennia after millennia? The historical memory of scarce resources – that fear of never having enough – that has some grasping for more while so many languish in want has to be replaced with the reality that there is more than enough, we just need to start living in that truth.
A note on more games…
Let’s have a show of hands of who has been following the Commonwealth Games.
Pat Watson is the author of the e-book, In Through A Coloured Lens. Twitter@patprose.