Opening Doors: The Barrier-Busting Basics of a Basic Income

Lisa Spencer Cook

Before COVID, I owned a business, a small cafe in the heart of a small city. I’m a single mom, so to keep the place running, I desperately needed staff, but I couldn’t hire anyone all that often, as I simply could not afford it. I had a lease payment to make each month that was $1600, and on top of that, city fees, licensing fees, stock to replenish, bills, etc. etc. It was nearly impossible to implement creative ideas, open extra hours, and thrive as a small business because all bills fell on my shoulders. Each month was a struggle to make ends meet, and keep a roof over my small family's head. There was nothing left over, and some months I was borrowing just to break even. So when Covid-19 hit, and school was out, I had no choice but to admit defeat and fold. I’m not alone, many Canadian entrepreneurs and small business owners had to do the same thing. 

A universal basic income may have saved my business, and allowed me to hire staff, and if not that, it would have paid some bills when we simply didn’t qualify for any government incentives or benefits.

So how would a basic income help me? 

Let us say that a universal basic income in Canada would be $1500 a month. That payment would cover my mortgage, and my property taxes. 

Every month I would still need to pay utilities ($95,) gas/electric (approx $250,) internet, which as we’ve seen during the pandemic is an absolute necessity ($95,) food (approx $400,) house and car insurance ($250,) life insurance, ($30,) that's before I even think about childcare, buying my daughter clothes, school supplies, medication, shoes, fix anything around the house that’s broken, a phone, or even gas to fuel the car, so you see, obviously I would still need to work.

"And the point is that I want to work. I’ve always worked, I enjoy having something to do, and somewhere to go to utilize my skill set on the daily. "

Now let’s pretend I get a job, and in that job, I’m harassed daily by a senior member of staff (I’m drawing on personal experience here, and I’m most definitely not alone). Every single day I wake up with knots in my stomach because I know that if I kick up any kind of fuss about this, my job will be on the line, and I will risk not being able to pay the bills. So day in, and day out, I ignore the churning in my stomach, I get so stressed that sleeping is difficult, it affects my health, but I keep working in this toxic environment because the fear of losing my house outweighs the fear of daily harassment. A basic income would allow me to tell my boss to shove his job, and buy me some time to look for work in a healthy environment. Not only would it take the risk of losing my house away, but it would force employers to change their behaviour. Employers would have to value, respect, and treat their employees appropriately in order for their business to survive. 

Let’s throw in another scenario, pretend I’m from a wealthy background. My parents are wealthy, I’ve had every opportunity handed to me, and I’m living the privileged dream of graduating university without student loans, and I’m on a six figure salary. I still get universal basic income, simply because everybody gets it. I pop that $1500 in any account I choose, on any given month, invest it, save it, give it to charity...whatever, who cares? Because that’s the beauty of it. Everybody gets it. No proving if you’re worthy of it, and nobody checking in on you to see how you spend it. It simply makes everybody better off. It simply keeps the economy going. 

If you don’t need it, that’s swell, but why begrudge those that do? 

One thing we have to recognize after this time of great upheaval, is that we have the ability to level the playing field. To help people up off that poverty line, and drastically improve the lives of families that are otherwise struggling. 

Even if you’re in a job where your salary is covering your basic needs, there’s nothing left over for self improvement, going back to school, an education fund for your children, RRSP’s. Universal basic income is an investment towards a healthier, more successful society. Any way you look at it. 

I want to live in a society that places value on its citizens' health and well-being, one where people can afford to study, to help their children thrive. For me, UBI is a no brainer, and I don’t understand why there would be opposition to it. Some people think it’s taking something away from them, but it’s really not, as there are ways to make a basic income happen without raising taxes on middle income folks. It’s not about taking wealth away from anyone, it’s simply about allowing others who have more barriers in front of them the opportunity to participate.

And that’s surely the goal, a more inclusive, and less-stressed society. Who wouldn’t want that?


- by Lisa Spencer Cook