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Catholic social teaching supports basic income’s aim

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  • January 31, 2019

As Ontario courts grapple with the case against the provincial government on basic income, the Jesuit Forum for Social Faith and Justice is reminding Catholics that Catholic social teaching demands society must provide an economic minimum that supports families and human dignity.

“The universal basic income idea is about giving people that fundamental human right to a just wage, which is totally in line with Catholic social teaching,” Jesuit Forum director Anne-Marie Jackson told The Catholic Register. “Money is like manure — it’s only good if you spread it around.”

That concept was put to the test in an Ontario court Jan. 28 as lawyers argued over the cancellation of Ontario’s Basic Income Pilot. The court has reserved judgment.

“Regardless of what opinions one may have on the merits of a basic income as a policy, I think we can all agree it simply isn’t fair to pull the financial rug out from people, in this case people with low incomes and people living with disabilities,” lawyer Mike Perry told The Catholic Register in an e-mail.

Representing pilot program participants, Perry was in court as pro bono lawyer arguing for an application to overturn the government's decision to cancel the pilot. The $150-million, three-year experiment had about 4,500 participants in Hamilton-Brantford, Thunder Bay and Lindsay. This representative pool of low-income Ontarians had been receiving an income that adds up to nearly $17,000 for individuals or just over $24,000 for couples. People with disabilities received an additional $6,000.

After repeatedly promising on the campaign trail not to cancel the program, the Conservative government killed the pilot on Aug. 31, just two months after taking office. Payments are scheduled to end March 25, 18 months after people started receiving the extra money. The government claimed basic income would cost $17 billion per year if it was extended to all low-income Ontarians.

A St. Michael’s Hospital preliminary analysis showed that just over half of those enrolled in the experiment were working, running a business or looking for a job when the program began. Just over 13 per cent were working two or more jobs. Less than half (47 per cent) were not in the workforce, but two thirds of the non-working participants were ill or disabled, seven per cent were students and 14 per cent had family or caregiving responsibilities.

Promising these people a road out of poverty, starting them out on that road, then slamming shut the gates is just fundamentally unfair, Perry said.

By saying that a basic income is in line with Catholic social teaching, the Jesuit Forum isn’t taking political sides against Conservatives who oppose the scheme, said Jackson.

“No one is condemning people’s right to vote,” she said. “We are simply upholding the basic human rights that are owed to everyone, and questioning policies that infringe on those rights to shelter, food, education, health and so on.”

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, issued under the pontificate of St. John Paul II, points out there’s no one solution to making sure families and individuals have the bare minimum for participation in society, Jackson said.

“There can be several different ways to make a family wage a concrete reality,” reads paragraph 250 of the Compendium. “Various forms of important social provisions help to bring it about, for example, family subsidies and other contributions for dependent family members, and also remuneration for the domestic work done in the home by one of the parents.”

(Note: We mis-characterized the legal proceedings challenging the government decision to cancel the basic income pilot. The proceeding was in fact an application to have the court overturn the decision.)

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