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How Universal Basic Income could transform campus

By Armaan Singh, December 10 2023—

The International Day for Eradication of Poverty, Oct. 17, marked a date of recognition for the economically disadvantaged globally. The World Day acknowledges the impoverished and disenfranchised around the world. In Ottawa, a senate standing committee commenced deliberations of Bill S-233. If enacted, the bill would provide money for Canadians who do not meet an income threshold.  

The bill seeks to “develop a national framework for a guaranteed livable basic income.” 

Sponsored by MP Kim Pate of Ont. The Bill saw its first reading on Dec. 21, 2021. Two years thereafter, Canada’s housing crisis has been exacerbated, interest rates have soared, and GDP forecasts do not indicate an inflationary repression

Today’s poverty levels fall below pre-pandemic figures but 2021 saw a 7.4 per cent poverty rate; up 1 per cent from 2020 and those less equipped during or before the COVID-19 pandemic have largely been neglected. This neglect has fostered rising homelessness and an opioid crisis that resulted in 1,904 opioid-related deaths in just the first three months of 2023, according to the Government of Canada’s Health Infobase. 

For U of C students, this isn’t some foreign notion. Commuting through Calgary’s transit stations, homeless victims drifting into a disorientating haze as fentanyl seeps into their daily struggles is now, regrettably, a familiar sight for UCalgary students and Calgarians alike.  

To contextualize Bill-S-233 — more commonly referred to as Universal Basic Income (UBI) — Dr. Robert Oxoby, professor and acting department head of economics at U of C interviewed with The Gauntlet to discuss what UBI is and how it could affect students and Canadians abroad.  

Oxoby echoes a central theme around UBI. The unrestricted element differs UBI from other social programs aimed at netting the sustained welfare of those in need. That is the ability to use direct funds for whatever an individual needs in their unique and particular circumstance.  

“According to these white sheets, it’s between 16,000 and 24,000 dollars a year. You know that’s what it is, it’s a basic income grant, it allows you to pay your rent, put food on the table, you know, allows you to do all sorts of things. If you need childcare, it allows for that in order to work.” 

The public cost of such a framework is often pitted as the central scrutiny of UBI. Oxoby outlines what the details of such a framework could look like. 

“The basic way UBI works has a little bit of a negative income tax effect. As you make more money, some of it gets clogged back. There are various estimates on what the clawbacks are; here on the white paper, it says every 50 cents on the dollar.” 

He also describes the value behind the cost. Public facets in which UBI could positively actualize. 

“I think homelessness is terrible, especially in a city like Calgary, and so the question is how costly is that and I think it’s quite costly. It affects crime, it affects health care, it affects living standards, and so UBI is a policy instrument to try and help solve those problems.”  

Oxoby further discusses the holistic, positive implications that UBI could have at the University

“Let’s say you got to be 18 to get UBI, what that means is a lot of UCalgary students would have some extra money, it means they wouldn’t have to work as much they could focus on their studies more. It means probably everyone’s eating breakfast every morning, you know, little things like that have big impacts.” 

Oxoby emphasizes the impact something like UBI could have on full-time working students, but does UBI affect all students equally? 

“No. It doesn’t,” said Oxoby. “It’s not going to affect everyone the same, the point of it is it’s not supposed to affect everybody the same, you know it’s targeted at a specific group of people, those really suffering in financial stress, you know, the reason you give them money is that then they can decide how to spend it, some people need housing, some people need food, some people need childcare some people need educational resources, the point is, it doesn’t affect everyone equally.” 

Oxoby further illustrates the problems and people UBI seeks to reach 

“The number of people that don’t even have bank accounts is huge, I mean, this is a method to get people involved in institutions, get them into a bank, I mean, I worked with an organization called Momentum that did a match-saving program for people living in low incomes, and it was amazing to me how many people didn’t have a bank account. I mean they had jobs; they had rent they paid. They did everything in cash or did it through other means with other people doing it for them, so they didn’t use a bank account. I mean, this is a way to get people into those institutions. 

Oxoby states why Ottawa has seen an uptick in the conversation surrounding UBI.

“We’re coming out of COVID, where we had kinda through CERB, a type of Universal Basic Income, we saw it working and we saw all the benefits it had. So I think it’s front of mind for policymakers,” said Oxoby. “You know a lot of the increasing challenges we’re seeing, the opioid crisis, healthcare problems, mental health issues and things like that; I mean all those things are things that are just exacerbated by living in a state of scarcity or poverty, worst case you know. Again it becomes how you measure that benefit. And that’s a difficult question.”

In his concluding remarks, Oxoby states that Bill S-233 seeks to tackle our diminishing public facets and, in doing so, create a level playing field which combats homelessness and the increasing financial burden of our contemporary economy.  

“Not everybody starts at the same place,” said Oxoby. “You have to get people to acknowledge that, and once they can acknowledge that, you know, that’s the first step. The world isn’t fair, and that’s fine.”  

More information about Bill S-233 can be found on UBI Works.

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