Ontario Basic Income Pilot survey reveals startling results

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Ontario’s basic income pilot project was designed to put money into the pockets of marginalized people who could not afford dental work, prescription medications and to and from work transportation, says a new survey.

BICN designed its survey to make up for the government’s “very unfortunate missed opportunity” to study the impact of Ontario’s pilot. BICN is an advocacy group that supports the idea of a government-funded basic income available to all citizens.

Ontario’s previous Liberal government launched the experiment in 2017 which saw individuals and couples got up to $17,000 and $24,000 a year, respectively, to supplement low incomes or replace welfare or disability payments.

Researchers were enlisted to study the social and health benefits of lifting 4,000 people out of poverty. In Lindsay, Ont., where 10 per cent of the town was on basic income, researchers were watching for changes to the community’s rates of hospital usage, unemployment and crime.

That lasted until July of last year.

The Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives pulled the plug on the program and called the research off. Payments to participants will end this month.

A permanent basic income would cost Ontario $17 billion a year. Many advocates insist that the cost is worth it as it decrease the government’s other expenses for health care and social services. And BICN’s study suggests there could be some merit to that theory.

BICN got 424 pilot participants, or about 10 per cent of the whole group, to answer its survey and leave comments.

People in the pilot reported feeling less stressed, less isolated and more hopeful for their futures.

Forty-five per cent said they experienced fewer health problems overall while on basic income; 74 per cent said they made healthier food choices; 32 per cent got dental work they’d been putting off; 41 per cent bought medication they struggled to afford before; 17 per cent saw the amount of medication they need decrease.

Before basic income, one respondent said they visited the hospital multiple times a week because they ate poorly and felt stressed and hopeless all the time.

Other health benefits included weight loss and improved mental health. Forty per cent said they joined a gym or started working toward fitness goals. One person reported losing 100 pounds while enrolled in the pilot.

Eighty-eight per cent said basic income reduced their stress and anxiety and 73 per cent said it reduced their depression. One person said they paid off debts that were making them feel suicidal. Another said they found full-time work because basic income payments reduced their anxiety so much.

The pilot reduced reliance on community services and in some cases, helped people look for work and improve their employment prospects. Fifty-six per cent of respondents said they had no paid work in 2018.

Twenty-eight per cent said they stopped relying on food banks because of the pilot; 32 per cent went back to school; almost 6 per cent said they started working or looking for work because they could now afford child care; 20 per cent could afford transportation for work or interviews; 9 per cent started or expanded their own business.

It is clear that having those at the bottom of the food chain get a basic income helps them get on their feet and become less of a burden on the system. Those who eat well, exercise more and don’t have the stress associated with poor nutrition and poor health means they won’t be seeing the inside of hospitals. They could with some luck become productive members of society. -CINEWS

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