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  • Photograph by Elizabeth Roth

The Case for Basic Income

A Blog by Vivian Belik

In 2006 I was working as an editor at my university newspaper, the Uniter, when I came across a fascinating story. One of our writers, Whitney Light, wrote a piece on a professor that was studying a town in Manitoba that had managed to eliminate poverty. It sounded like a fairytale story. 

Fast forward a few years to a conversation I'm having with friends about the increasing rates of poverty in Canada and I'm reminded again of this town. How was it able to achieve what so many governments have failed to accomplish? I decided I would try and get in touch with some of its past residents and find out. 

How was this program able to achieve what so many governments have failed to accomplish?

The Mincome program in Dauphin, Manitoba was a radical basic income experiment involving thousands of people in the community. It was the only time a study like this ever took place in North America and its results went largely unstudied for more than three decades. There were so many interesting aspects to Mincome that I wanted to better understand. Who were the people that had taken part in this experiment and what were their experiences? How did Canada come to fund such a progressive experiment and then decide to throw away the results? And most importantly, what lessons could we as Canadians learn from this study today? 

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When I first spoke to one of the past Mincome participants, Amy Richardson, I knew there were many interesting stories waiting to be told. Amy candidly spoke about trying to raise four children off $1.50 haircuts she gave in her living room.  The experiment arrived at the right time for Amy to support her family and buy things like schoolbooks and all the 'extras' she needed for her kids. 

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 Amy Richardson, a Mincome recipient

When I travelled to Dauphin I also met Marilyn, a textbook case for why basic or guaranteed income programs can be so beneficial. Marilyn had three young daughters when her alcoholic husband walked out on her. She had no job and was living in low-income housing. Through the help of Mincome and a skills training program, she landed a job with the government and was able to buy a home that she still lives in today. She and her daughters both credit the Mincome program for breaking the cycle of poverty in their family.

Marilyn and her daughters both credit the Mincome program for breaking the cycle of poverty in their family.

It's amazing what a little extra cash each month can do. It can make the difference in affording better food, prescriptions or being able to make rent payments on time. Successful basic income programs have flourished in developing countries - like the Bolsa Familia program in Brazil and pilot experiments in India and Namibia. Switzerland is set to vote on a country-wide basic income scheme soon.

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Evelyn Forget, the U of M professor, who is piecing together the data from the 1970's Mincome experiment

It's the right time to be exploring the idea of basic income in Canada. Prince Edward Island announced this year they wanted to explore the idea in their own province. And Nunavut has talked about how a program like this could tackle exceptionally high rates of poverty in their territory. And there's lots of supporters of this idea across the country. 

"It's the right time to be exploring the idea of basic income in Canada" -Vivian Belik

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Jayden Soroka and I are looking forward to sharing the next chapter in this story - the documentary film we're working on, The Town Without Poverty. The documentary will explore Dauphin's Mincome experiment, but will add an essential new piece. We are recreating the Mincome experiment on a smaller scale. A handful of families in Canada will receive basic income payments for a year and our documentary will also tell their stories. 

 

Want to read more?

Read Jayden's blog here.

Read Vivian's article on the Dauphin Mincome experiment here.

A note from Upstream: We are so excited to come alongside Jayden and Vivian, and the others already involved in this project that truly employs upstream thinking. We will be sharing more stories from both Jayden and Vivian through the final funding stages, their search for participants and during the year project is running. We also look forward to sharing a different perspective - from the families and individuals who will be participating in this new Mincome project.  

If you'd like to support this project, you can get in touch with Jayden & Vivian at townwithoutpoverty@gmail.com

Showing 2 reactions

  • commented 2015-06-05 08:52:40 -0600
    Hi Monique! The documentary by Jayden and Vivian is still underway, but we’ll be posting about it more as it progresses.
  • commented 2015-06-03 16:20:25 -0600
    I heard about the Mincome experiment and am very interested in finding out more about it. Did you finally make your documentary? My email address is mo.cloutier@videotron.ca
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