Basic Income: Canada’s Trial Had a Huge Effect on People’s Health

The project led to some welcome benefits.

The results are in: basic income has a positive effect on people’s health. The Canadian province of Ontario started a three-year pilot project in April 2017, granting 4,000 low-income participants a minimum level of income. Although the plan was cut short in July 2018, a new report published Wednesday reveals that those participants saw big improvements in their personal health.

“People with physical and mental health problems saw improvement, through the remission of migraines, fatigue and depression, for example, or relief from the symptoms of fibromyalgia, celiac disease or IBS,” the report prepared by the Basic Income Canada Network claimed. “People succeeded in gaining or losing weight to be healthier. Some were also better able to manage other conditions or disabilities.”

A survey found that 48.4 percent of participants had experienced food insecurity, so the basic income enabled them to purchase higher quality food more reliably. One recipient called Maryanne told the network that she was “beginning to lose weight slowly because I could actually afford better options,” while another called Stephanie said that she could “afford to use small local groceries closer to me.”

“With the pilot, we were able to change the way [our daughter] ate ……in order to live a normal life,” a recipient called Gary told the network. “She has since blossomed and overcame depression and anxiety with the proper foods she is getting…such a blessing to our family.”

The project chose participants within the ages of 18 to 64, living in one of a number of selected test regions for the past 12 months, with annual income under $34,000 (US$25,770) for single people or $48,000 (US$36,381) for couples. The pilot project ensured participants received $16,989 (US$12,876) for single people or $24,027 (US$18,211) for couples per year, minus 50 percent of any earned income. People with disabilities received a further $500 (US$379) per month extra.

“I have been able to buy more fruit, vegetables and more often, meat,” a user called Ron told the network. “I hardly ate meat on [the Ontario Disability Support Program] because it is too expensive. I can even go out with friends again for dinner which empowers me and makes me feel so good.”

The project, kickstarted by Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne, was axed in July 2018 under newly-elected Progressive Conservative premier Doug Ford. Minister Lisa MacLeod described the projectas “clearly not the answer for Ontario families,” but provincial New Democratic Party leader Andrea Horwath lambasted the cancellation as “highly irresponsible” and “absolutely disgraceful.” A lawsuit filed to reverse the move failed after the province’s Superior Court upheld the decision.

The findings from the test pilot match with the results seen in other experiments. The Finnish government earlier this month shared the findings from the first year of its two-year experiment, which gave 2,000 unemployed Finns €560 ($634) per month without conditions. The participants reported higher levels of happiness, lower levels of stress, and greater levels of satisfaction with their income when compared with people on the exact same level of income. Further details on the Finnish project are expected next year.

While improved levels of health are a welcome benefit from basic income, it could also offer added protection from growing levels of automation. Elon Musk and Sam Altman are just two of the Silicon Valley minds warning that advancing A.I. could leave many people without a job, while Andrew Yang is running for the American presidency on a basic income platform after speaking with engineers in the tech industry.

Ontario’s project may be over, but its results could inspire basic income advocates for years to come.

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