Pioneering a program

The case for universal basic income (UBI) has been made by financial experts, economists, government officials, and tech moguls, alike. So far, except in the case of Finland, all the talk about UBI has mostly been talk. That’s all about to change now, with Ontario, Canada preparing for its own pilot basic income program in 2017.

The concept behind the pilot was laid out in a paper written by Hugh Segal, former senator and special advisor to Ontario. For Segal, UBI presents a better alternative to a welfare system he describes as “seriously demeaning.”

During the three-year test program experts would, “gather quantitative and qualitative data through access to administrative records, questionnaires and interviews, making aggregate data/preliminary results available broadly and transparently,” says Segal. He believes that supplemental income should be set at $1,320 a month ($1,820 for people with disabilities) for it to be effective. “The objective behind this endeavor should be to generate an evidence-base for policy development, without bias or pre-determined conclusion,” he adds.

Poverty and automation

Though not the first, Segal believes that Canada’s program can add to the growing body of research about UBI. “The opportunity to learn from and engage with these other initiatives should not be overlooked, nor should approaches being tested elsewhere be necessarily re-tested here,” Segal writes. As mentioned, Finland was the first to have successfully tested UBI.

UBI programs are being developed in Utricht in the Netherlands, Kenya, and in India. There have also been unsuccessful attempts, like in Switzerland, where people voted against a UBI program last June.

Segal sees UBI as a means to keep people out of poverty. “Testing a basic income is a humane and useful way to measure how so many of the costs of poverty (in terms of productivity, health, policing, and other community costs, to name only a few) might be diminished, while poverty itself is reduced and work is encouraged,” he writes. But apart from this, it can also serve to facilitate the job transition automation is expected to create in next decade.