Although I’d settle for the end of poverty all together. It has long been statistically shown that women are at a higher risk of being in poverty throughout their lives, and that the depth of their poverty is deeper than is experienced by men in our cherished Canadian society. While Parliament seems to be all about Poverty Reduction, Poverty Eradication, Poverty Senate Committee Studies, I just want them to get a move on, and take care of it like they said they would so many years ago.
When the election was called, I know that the there had been a Senate Report completed and submitted on rural poverty, and Tony Martin of the NDP Party was very near the start of a HUMA Committee hearing on poverty reduction strategies. Do we really need the multiple reports and studies? Sure they’re nice, but NGOs have already studied the issue, University Women’s Studies and Sociology Classes are already teaching aspects of the issues, and surprisingly enough, *way back* in the day when Trudeau was kissing babies, a very interesting solution to poverty was already discussed, discovered and implemented in a pilot program in Northern Manitoba.
This solution is the implementation of a basic income. The Northern Manitoba pilot project was dubbed “Mincome” and started in 1974 and was cut short prematurely by a change in government in 1979. The concept of Basic Income has been supported by a wide variety of economists including Milton Freidman, John Kenneth Galbraith, and James Tobin. In 1968 around 1200 economist signed a document calling for what they called a demo-grant, basic income by another name.
So, what is basic income?
Where do Feminists stand?
Why is it good for women?
Well, to start, basic income is essentially an income that is provided to people on the basis of their humanity, rather than as a result of attachment to the labour market or the expectation that they are required to engage in any activity, or fulfill “criteria” in order to be eligible. Ideally this income is enough to cover those things that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that we are entitled to on the basis of our status as human beings. It should cover, food, shelter, clothing… that sort of thing… the basics.
Recently, I attended a feminist debate in Dublin, Ireland on the subject of the impact of a basic income on women as caregivers. So half the participants had submitted papers and positions against the implementation of a basic income on the basis of the impact it would have on women as caregivers, and the other half presented the opposite. (The papers are available on Ireland’s CORI Justice website http://www.cori.ie/Justice/Basic_Income/62-Basic_Income/541-bien-world-congress-on-basic-income-)
The main theme among Feminists against Basic Income, was the idea that if women were to receive enough money to support themselves without attachment to the labour market, that the progress of the women’s movement concerning women in the workforce would be lost. That women, if they were provided an amount of choice may choose (as a result of present socialization and sexist ideals) to remain as caregivers rather than continue their foray into the corporate world. And that as women did this then any gains made in the equal wage movement, or the ability to access non traditional employment opportunities would be lost.
The feminists that debated for the implementation of basic income argued that because women are at a greater overall risk for being in poverty, and that having access to enough income to support basic needs, that women would actually be able to engage in paid employment to a greater extent (as a result of being able to afford to hire substitute care workers) and also being able to be choosier about the work that they accept.
And finally, from my perspective, however cynical as it may be, current statistics indicate that there are at least 1 million people living in poverty in Canada, right now. The majority of those identified people in poverty are women and their children. Other people who make up Canada’s poor are people with disability, the elderly, Aboriginal and Inuit, new immigrants and visual minorities.
Women take long absences from paid employment because of caregiving responsibilities, and in contrast with those feminists that frown upon women who “choose to engage” in such activity, I would argue, as a poor single mom of two, that it isn’t much of a choice. Whether it’s the school calling me to pick up my sick kid, or outbreaks of lice, I have to stay home.
Women are the ones who make up the ranks of precarious employment, and it is women who are primarily accessing food banks to feed themselves and their children. A recent study of Northern Women and homelessness ended up using the title “Just Blink and It Can Happen” after surveying hundreds of women across the Yukon, Northwest and Nunavut Territories.
It doesn’t seem to me that Canada’s working poor, welfare recipients, and homelessness become so as a result of personal moral failing. Rather, I believe that in this time, where Canada’s economy continues to do very well and its population is falling by greater numbers into the poverty trap, that it is a great and disturbing moral failing of our political leadership.