Basic Income Dinner provokes rich discussion

Particpants sitting at tables engaged in discussion

On July 26th, we invited members of the Peterborough community to enjoy a free vegetarian dinner and participate in a public conversation about the basic income guarantee. With approximately 50 people in attendance, the room was filled with passionate community members who are hungry for change. In this post, we recount some of the themes that emerged from last week’s discussion.

Q: What would a basic incoParticipants gathered at table to hear from event speakerme mean to you?

A: In general, there was strong agreement that a basic income would increase the quality of life for members of our community. Many participants talked about how living on a low income creates stress, with several noting how being able to cover their bills would create more opportunities to give back to their community by volunteering and pursuing personal interests.

There was also a clear sense that a basic income would enhance freedom and choice by reducing challenges related to unemployment, underemployment and job security. Similarly, we heard from many people who said that a basic income would allow them to access healthy, locally produced food, making our entire community more food secure.

Importantly, we heard that a basic income would help eliminate the stigma that often results from the experience of living in poverty. In this sense, there was a strong feeling that a basic income would make Peterborough City and County a healthier, more vibrant place to live.

Q: What would basic income mean to the community at large?

A
: This question provoked a similar set of themes; however, there was a strong consensus that a basic income would help bring our community together by increasing social harmony. Many participants expressed that a basic income would lead to greater equality given that everyone would be eligible for the same basic amount, which would allow them to meet their basic needs. Likewise, this was seen as a positive step towards ensuring that everyone in our community would possess the agency to make their own life choices.

More broadly, we also heard from many participants who predicted the positive effects that a basic income could have on the job market, as well as the potential benefits to community safety resulting from reductions to petty crime. Finally, we heard how basic income would empower our community to become more engaged in the social, political, and economic development of our region.

Q: Do you have any concerns about how basic income would be implemented? If so, what are they?Event speaker holds up flip chart paper displaying results of conversation

A: With any new project, there are always concerns that require additional consideration, especially with a project that entails a significant shift in public policy. The most frequent concern that we heard during the meeting surrounded the issue of inflation. Generally speaking, inflation occurs when the price of goods and services outstrips the value of the money used to purchase them.  On this subject, many asked: What happens if a basic income is implemented and the price of everything increases? While this is a legitimate concern, it is important to note that there is ongoing debate on this point, and many critics dispute the view that a basic income would automatically lead to price spikes for basic goods. As with any policy development process, however, there is a need to weigh costs and benefits by employing the best available evidence in reaching a final decision.

By similar measure, others expressed concern with government. In particular, they communicated their desire for consultation and engagement, especially for those who are likely to benefit the most from a basic income guarantee. At the same time, participants also questioned the ability of the pilot project to withstand a potential change in government, and specifically the potential risk of the project being canceled pending the results of the 2018 Ontario election.

Similarly, commuWoman holds up sign with text: A #basicincome would mean....an end of poverty so that everyone can participate fully in society.nity members want to know who is responsible for crafting the basic income pilot project. On this note, the Ontario Government recently announced the appointment of basic income advocate and former Canadian senator, Hugh Segal, who will provide "advice on the design and implementation of a Basic Income Pilot in Ontario, as announced in the 2016 Budget." In the meantime, as work continues on this file, we hope that our provincial government will provide more information and updates that will help shed light on these important questions soon.

Following the discussion portion of the evening, we asked about next steps. Many individuals noted their intention to personally advocate for a basic income, and several expressed that they would help spread the word using social media and by speaking to their friends, family, and neighbours. Given the strong attendance and positive discussion that resulted from last week’s event, however, it would appear that there is an astounding level of support for the basic income guarantee in our community.

Last week's event was co-hosted by the Basic Income Peterborough Network, a working group of the Nourish Project. For more information about the Basic Income Peterborough Network, click here or contact them directly by emailing basicincome@nourishproject.ca