GUYSBOROUGH — The Nova Scotia government should introduce a guaranteed basic income for all residents and pilot the program in Guysborough County, says community housing advocate Nancy O’Regan.
“I think Nova Scotia is ready for it,” she told The Journal in an interview last week. “Let Guysborough County try it. We have the highest level of poverty in the eastern zone, and that’s nothing to be proud of. We’ve got to move the needle on a lot of things. People are struggling with housing, food security, heat ... for God’s sakes, give us a pilot.”
O’Regan, who is co-chair of the Guysborough County Housing Network, said the area’s perennial need for housing is a symptom of a larger and more pernicious problem that, if not tackled, will continue to undermine efforts to put safe affordable roofs over local peoples’ heads.
“We live in a rural area and that means that we don’t have the amenities that exist in other places...You know, the other day, I heard that [local] food banks are going to have to come up with 20 new boxes, and that tells me something. Families are struggling, even [more than] last year, and last year was hard.”
She added: “There are a lot of people who can’t get to that golden place where everybody makes enough money to afford their lives. And I just don’t like blaming people for that.”
O’Regan noted that the idea of a guaranteed basic income, which is not new, is drawing attention in other parts of the Maritimes – most recently PEI, where a coalition of politicians, bureaucrats and community advocates from the province and across Canada released a report in November.
“A Proposal for a Guaranteed Basic Income Benefit in Prince Edward Island,” by the PEI Working Group for a Liveable Income, concludes that a maximum benefit of 85 per cent of the official poverty line ($19,252 for a single adult) would cut the Island’s poverty rate to under two per cent, from almost 10, for 18 to 64-year-olds “and ensure that no Islander lives in deep poverty (income below 75 per cent of the official poverty line).”
Critics have argued that guaranteed basic income programs elsewhere in the world haven’t worked as well as their proponents have claimed and that the cost of administering and funding them have ultimately proven to be prohibitive.
The PEI Working Group, however, says that its scheme “can be fully financed while ensuring that most PEI taxpayers are better off” because it would be “combined with federal funding, likely reductions in provincial and federal expenditures on income-tested benefits, and reductions over time in the costs of poverty for governments.”
O’Regan says a guaranteed basic income in Guysborough County would go a long way towards addressing the systemic problems that undermine long-term housing solutions here. “If you live on social assistance in this county, you are deciding between medication and food. You can’t properly maintain a safe vehicle. You can’t properly maintain a home, if you have one; and you can’t afford increased rents or insurance costs.”
She added: “It don’t think this is a political viewpoint, because you will probably find some small-c conservatives that would support the idea.”