Who's Afraid of a GLI?
by C.L'Hirondelle - Dec. 2005

At the CCSD's "Forging Social Futures" conference in June 2005 there was a general admission that, in spite of years of work, things are getting worse for those living in poverty. This is where I met a poverty policy professional who cheerfully praised the Guaranteed Livable Income presentation I was a part of and then said "but it will never happen." Similarly a speaker from SPARC-BC stated (Monday Magazine, Mar. 25, 2004) he was in favour of GLI but then said "I don't think it's going to happen anytime soon." And after a four person panel spoke on guaranteed livable/basic income at the "Imagining Public Policy to Meet Women’s Economic Security Needs" conference (October 2005, Vancouver) organized by Simon Fraser University and the CCPA, Seth Klein (BC Director of the CCPA) stated that he too was in favour of guaranteed income but didn't know "how we would afford it".

In spite of having published hundreds of books or reports, the CCPA does not have any on guaranteed income. This topic only gets mentioned in their Monitor newsletter (quoted below). SPARC, with one of their priorities being "income security" also has nothing on their website about guaranteed income. And the while the CCSD did host a 2003 conference on Basic Income, they also lack this topic on their website. Since these groups do not currently advocate guaranteed livable/basic income as a solution to poverty, then what they do advocate?

The CCSD are focused on federal standards and increased spending on social programs and welfare through the Canada Social Transfer and emphasize that social program and education spending should be separated. (Policy initiative, "What kind of Canada", 2004)

In "A Bad Time to be Poor" (CCPA/SPARC June 2003) the chapter "A Progressive Alternative Welfare Reform Agenda" details how to improve the welfare system with a focus on labour supports: programs that are "individualized and nurturing" to address "personal barriers to employment"; affordable child care and housing; more access to training and education so that people, especially single parents, can "find and keep paid employment" that is "stable and well-paying" as well as "self-sustaining"; and investing in early childhood education so that we can develop a "knowledge-based workforce"; and that we should "seek to build a full employment economy" by boosting public spending on capital projects and public services and "shorter work weeks and enhanced work-time sharing."

The report "Depressing Wages" (CCPA, March 2001), states "Welfare cuts, regardless of their motivation, are having a harmful effect" and they issue a "dire warning" that this is taking away "automatic stabilizers" in the economy. The only explicit solution in this 27 page report is that "progressive anti-poverty strategies must address the link between both the social assistance and UI systems of income support."

The 2001 report "Falling Behind" by SPARC details the dangerous inadequacy of welfare rates and recommends fixing many punitive welfare policies and significantly raising the rates.

The CCPA policy brief on "Women's Economic Equality Strategy" to the BC government (2000) emphasizes higher wages and welfare, childcare and more public services.

In 1999 the BC office of the CCPA organized a one day workshop on poverty called "Closing the Gap." According to the workshop proceedings, Michelle Des Lauriers from End Legislated Poverty calls for "a People's Welfare" high enough for food, clothing and shelter, guaranteed regardless of participation in training programs or workfare, and a meaningful full employment strategy" and that "a people's welfare would require business to provide long-term jobs with benefits, even for part-time workers." In the summary of the discussion, editors Seth Klein and Marc Lee noted that there had been "a number of comments related to the idea of a Guaranteed Annual Income (GAI) as an alternative to status quo forms of income support" but they then direct readers to the Alternative Federal Budget (AFB) which "also makes a number of suggestions toward alleviating poverty within a budgetary framework."

The 1998 Alternative Federal Budget recommends, "well-funded universal and accessible social and public services" on page 184, however, when it comes to welfare, they do not recommend a universal program. Instead they conceive a "National Income Support Fund" to provide a 'floor' of financial support below which no Canadian can fall" and that "all who declare they are in need are guaranteed a fair assessment and adequate support" (pg. 147) .

Steve Kerstetter writes in his 70 page report "Rags and Riches: Wealth Inequality in Canada" (CCPA 2002) that we need a more equitable tax system and better social programs, more living wage jobs and points out the voting power of large numbers of low income Canadians who could "strike fear into the heart of any government."

Jim Stanford, economist with the Canadian Auto Workers and CCPA Research Associate stated in the November 2000 CCPA Monitor: "Clearly, we can't allow the BI [Basic Income] movement's slogans about providing basic coverage to every Canadian to be used to bring about a racheting-down of hard-won and already-threatened social benefits. Progressives should be demanding a living wage for everyone… The BI proponents are right when they say that a country as rich in resources as Canada can well afford to lift every one of its citizens out of poverty. But it's not a foregone conclusion that it should be entirely up to governments to make that happen. We should also be holding private employers accountable for their role in creating poverty and unemployment." (This article was on the CCPA website in 2004 but is no longer)

This rationale explains the growing popularity of Living Wage campaigns (which would raise wages for people with jobs). In Canada, the National Anti-Poverty Organization, the CCSD, and coalitions in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Alberta are all involved. The national Tamarack Institute ($697,825 revenue in 2004) funds Living Wage campaigns as part of their Vibrant Communities project which includes Victoria and 14 other cities. Tamarack is connected to the Maytree Foundation and the Caledon Institute.

The result: After millions spent and entire forests of books, reports and research published, the solutions to poverty advocated by these think tanks are all focused on a) labour force attachment; b) fixing welfare and c) more public services (especially daycare).

It is obvious that progressives expect women to work for free to produce the next generation of humans in addition to their work in the formal labour market.

Without the unpaid work of women, there would be no customers, no clients, no students, no humanity. Yet in spite of this ultimate essential public service, women are supposed to declare themselves "in need" and beg for welfare or take on the double shift of doing both paid and unpaid work. Is it any wonder the birth rate is dropping and headlines read: "Not enough babies: new threat to economy" (Globe & Mail, Aug. 23, 05).

In contrast, a Guaranteed Livable Income would compensate unpaid essential care work. It would also address the paradox that the more we try to use jobs to solve poverty, the more we squander resources on non-essentials and "endlessly add costs onto life's basic material goods and services and thus create a world in which many average people cannot afford to live" (J.S. Larochelle, 2000)

The insistence that jobs are the solution to poverty means that women pay the externalized costs for those jobs. And how they pay. Women are the poorest in every category of population and world wide women and children make up 70% of the world's poor. Essentially women are paying with poverty for workers' wages.

Millions of dollars are spent on producing volumes upon volumes of think tank books and reports which do not address this injustice. Where does this money come from and why is there a glaring lack of interest by "alternative" think tanks in a guaranteed income? It's not like information about guaranteed income is hard to find. There are hundreds of books on it, Martin Luther King campaigned for guaranteed income, Canada had a multi-million dollar guaranteed income experiment in Manitoba in the early 70's; technology experts like Marshall Brain, Dr. James Hughes write about basic income and encourage us to embrace our jobless future; and feminists from across Canada advocated GLI in the Pictou Statement in December of 2004. (See Links for more information)

Given that all of society and the economy relies on women's unpaid work, and given that there has been no decree to end the human species (which could be the only rationale to financially penalize mothers) and given that sympathetic poverty experts have no solutions that address women's unpaid work, one must ask: are "progressive" think tanks in favor of women's slavery?


Originally published in the Dec. 2005 Lower Island News