Basic Income: Ontario To Introduce Pilot Program Aimed At Improving Efficiency, Eliminating Poverty

Scott Hough

The Government of Ontario announced plans to introduce a pilot program in its 2016 budget, released on Thursday, to provide all residents with a basic income. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne's Liberal government states that the "pilot project will test a growing view at home and abroad that a basic income could build on the success of minimum wage policies and increases in child benefits by providing more consistent and predictable support in the context of today's dynamic labour market."

It has become so common for workers in the taxicab, housekeeping, and other perceived low level industries to get paid under the table that workers have taken to publicly advertising their desire to find such work, as evidenced by a recent advertisement on Kijiji.

Workplaces where workers in receipt of social assistance benefits, such as those offered by Ontario Works, work alongside others who are not, when both groups receive all or a portion of their earnings under the table, present a unfair playing field. Instead of encouraging workers in receipt of social benefits to work towards moving away from them, the situation encourages employers to pay less than minimum wage, and under the table. Earning less than minimum wage for an extended period can easily force a working person into poverty, creating a need for them to apply for Ontario Works, where one did not previously exist.

Further, employees systematically working under the table are seen as being at greater risk than those who are not. TradeLinks lists reasons that employees should think twice about working under the table.

  • Difficulty securing personal or business loans
  • No health benefits or insurance
  • No coverage by Workers' Compensation
  • Reduced Canada Pension Plan benefits at retirement
  • Constant fear of getting caught

Imagine a taxicab driver working under the table who is called to pick up a fare at a home next to a home where a robbery is taking place.

The cab driver might pick up their fare and drive them to their destination without incident, unaware that anything out of the ordinary took place at the home next door. Because they are working under the table, there is a good chance that their fare will not be recorded in their trip log, or the trip log of the cab company they work for.

It is almost certain that someone will remember seeing the taxicab next door to where the robbery took place, and that the cab driver will be questioned. Because the driver is working under the table, and their trip logs have been falsified, when questioned by authorities there is a good chance the cab driver will lie and be quickly caught in their lie, making them a prime suspect for a robbery that they did not commit.

In short, someone in receipt of social assistance benefits, whether they work or not, is often perceived as less trustworthy than someone who is not: the owner of small business for example. It is noted that while a small business owner who pays several employees under the table is responsible for fraud for a much higher dollar figure than the employees themselves, they are often perceived in a much different light.

"While middle-class taxpayers happily conceal income as though it were a national sport and small retailers double-book their way to PST and GST [now HST] tax fraud with only the rare risk of audit or investigation (and the even rarer risk of provincial or federal non-criminal prosecution) welfare recipients face ongoing and constant investigation to a degree unparalleled by any identifiable class of people, with the exception of penetentiary inmates."

Beyond this, many cab drivers, who are in receipt of social assistance benefits, earn less than minimum wage, and are paid under the table, also perform a good deal of work on behalf of the Government of Ontario, such as transporting blood, specimens, and patients, as reported by the Northern News.

The potential for abuse of this system on the part of social workers, their business associates, and taxi companies is enormous. All of the same concerns that apply to cab drivers also apply to housekeepers, and others performing services for government subcontractors, while working under the table.

While a basic income in Ontario would presumably require workers to declare their income for which they would receive a staggered deduction in their payments, it removes much of the potential for abuse on the part of social workers and small businesses.

A worker who, under the current system, was bullied by a social worker or employer into working under the table would have the freedom to refuse such work, without fear of financial reprisal. Currently, if a worker in receipt of Ontario Works benefits refuses work being fraudulently presented as legitimate by either social workers, employers, or collusion between the two, they face having their benefits cut entirely. A guaranteed basic income puts the right to refuse unsafe or fraudulent workplaces back in the hands of the employee.

While some have labeled a guaranteed basic income as being "anti-work," as reported by the Daily Signal, a pilot project conducted in Dauphin, Manitoba, from 1974 to 1979 found a small, almost negligible, drop in the number of employed residents, with an almost complete elimination of poverty, a reduction in those in need of mental health services, and an increase in the level of education.

The exact nature of the basic income pilot project to be introduced by the Ontario government has yet to be announced.

[AP Photo/Christophe Ena]