Playing Politics with People’s Lives

In a harsh reminder that progress isn’t always linear, Ontario’s new conservative government announced today that it will end its groundbreaking basic income pilot, a backtrack on a promise made to voters during the campaign to continue the program that thousands of residents are benefitting from. It also plans to cut other safety net programs that had been set to expand, further pushing back critical services that many rely on for survival.

The three-year experiment was designed to determine whether regular, no-strings-attached payments improved health, education and housing outcomes for people living in poverty, and it was already showing extremely promising results. Ripping away financial security from recipients will destabilize not just their lives, but the larger community as well. “I don’t know if I should feel anger or despair right now,” participant Jessie Golem told HuffPost Canada. “I feel like the rug was just pulled out from underneath me.”

As families struggle to make ends meet in an economy that’s leaving too many hard-working people behind, this pilot was an ambitious initiative to build on evidence that shows us how cash is one of the most effective ways to lift people out of poverty and increase their independence.

The Ontario government’s decision is a short-sighted and irresponsible one that undermines promising research and hurts the 4,000 recipients that have been reporting meaningful improvements in their lives. What the Ontario basic income pilot promised was rigorous, informed experimentation and a real commitment to address head-on economic insecurity. If the Ontario government is really committed to both as a part of their emerging plans, we hope they reconsider this decision.

Policymakers, advocates, and academics worldwide are imagining a social contract for the 21st century by launching basic income pilots, organizing communities, and advancing smart cash-based policies. From Oakland to Chicago, the United States is currently home to several basic income pilots in various stages of development. One of the most prominent is the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration, funded in part by the Economic Security Project. Our resolve to see SEED through is stronger than ever, and we remain committed to the vision and leadership of our partners as we work together to chart the way forward on a guaranteed income’s bold vision of economic freedom and dignity for all.

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