'I feel very betrayed': Basic-income recipients react to one of the world's largest experiments suddenly being canceled

  • Ontario, Canada, rolled out a basic-income pilot project to 4,000 residents in July 2017.
  • Ontario’s new government, led by Doug Ford, suddenly canceled the program earlier this week.
  • “I feel I have been stabbed in the back by my own government,” one of the program’s participants told Business Insider.

Anger and outrage, shock and betrayal: Those were some of the raw emotions after one of the world’s largest basic-income experiments was suddenly canceled.

Earlier this week, Doug Ford, the conservative new premier of Ontario, Canada, pulled the rug out from under the experiment, which provided 4,000 people living at or near the poverty line with a stipend.

Ford’s government hasn’t publicly said much about its reasoning for cancelling the program, other than claiming it disincentivizes recipients from finding work.

Business Insider contacted several people who were receiving income under what was supposed to be a three-year pilot project put in place by Ontario’s previous government.

It lasted only one year, despite Ford’s campaign promise to keep the pilot project funded.

“I feel I have been stabbed in the back by my own government,” Alana Baltzer, 29, told Business Insider in an interview. “I honestly have no idea what’s happening next because there has been no communication whatsoever.”

The pilot project was supposed to run for 3 years. It lasted for one.

Basic income is a system in which, ideally, everyone, regardless of income, regularly receives money from the government.

Ontario’s program was a modified basic-income experiment, in which people who received the stipend had to meet a certain income threshold.

Under the program, a person who made less than 34,000 Canadian dollars a year ($US26,000 at current exchange rates) was eligible to receive up to CA$17,000 annually, and couples who made under CA$48,000 could receive up to CA$24,000 a year, minus 50% of any earned income.

Kenya,Finland, and a handful of other countries and cities have rolled out experimental basic-income pilots, intending to hand the results over to social scientists and economists to evaluate whether it helps lift people out of poverty.

When Ontario’s previous Liberal government began one of the biggest basic-income experiments in the world in July 2017, extending the pilot project to 4,000 residents, activists around the world were hopeful.

But when Ford’s Progressive Conservative Party took office on June 29, priorities shifted, and the CA$150 million project was canceled.

“When you’re encouraging people to accept money without strings attached, it really doesn’t send the message that I think our ministry and our government wants to send,” Lisa Macleod, Ontario’s minister of children, community, and social services, told reporters this week. “We want to get people back on track and be productive members of society where that’s possible.”

Some recipients received an email on Wednesday that said their payments would continue through August but didn’t provide more details on when the program would be phased out, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported.

Advocates of basic income slammed the government’s decision.

“I am so angry right now, I am shaking,” Scott Santens, a prominent advocate, said on Twitter on Tuesday. “Can you imagine a politician pulling the plug on a vaccine that was dramatically reducing cancer so much that it’s already arguably unethical to not immediately expand it to everyone?”

Hugh Segal, a former Conservative senator and one of the architects of the basic-income pilot, said in a scathing op-ed article in The Globe and Mail that the “new Ontario government is obviously deeply challenged on the issue of fairness.”

Tom Cooper, the director of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction, a local advocacy group, told Business Insider that people were “left reeling” after the program’s cancellation.

‘Anger and disillusionment’

Some people involved in the project who said they had mental-health issues told Business Insider they relied on the money for items like food and winter coats. It also served as a financial runway to search for jobs, they said.

Dave Cherkewski, a 46-year-old from Hamilton, Ontario, told Business Insider he fell into poverty and experienced mental-health issues after leaving his job at a telecommunications company.

“At times, I didn’t know where I was going to sleep, I didn’t know where my next meal would come from,” Cherkewski told Business Insider.

After living in poverty for 15 years, Cherkewski learned to survive on very little money, he said – “$US10,000 or $US13,000 a year.”

“This basic pilot was a huge ray of hope,” he said, “which was something I don’t buy into early because I have grown up in low income and I realise life isn’t a whole bunch of sunshine.”

He said that when he was informed of the pilot project’s cancellation by a local CBC reporter, his initial reaction was “shock.”

Baltzer, also a basic-income recipient, echoed that sentiment.

“It’s just a lot of anger and disillusionment at the Ontario government right now,” she said.

For Baltzer, who said she had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, the stipend was the difference between having enough money to live on every month and struggling to get by on the Ontario government’s disability-support program.

“It showed me what it’s like to live with dignity and freedom,” she said.

Jaylynn Rose, a 21-year-old participant in the pilot program who also said she had mental-health issues, told Business Insider that cutting off the program would “put so many people even deeper into poverty.”

Rose said she had hoped to use the money from the pilot project to apply to college but would now have no way to afford it.

“I feel very betrayed by the Ontario government,” Rose said.

Basic income creates an incentive to find a job, according to recipients

MacLeod has said the basic-income project is a “disincentive” for people to look for work.

Baltzer, however, says it’s motivation.

“It is kind of hard to find a job when you are struggling for food and you don’t have money to keep your phone active and it goes down out of service,” she said. ” You can’t afford to buy job clothing. You can’t even do laundry to wash job-interview clothing.”

On a basic income, Baltzer could eat healthier, buy clothes, go to the gym, do laundry, and afford phone and internet service to communicate with potential employers, she said.

Two-thirds of basic-income recipients involved in the pilot program were already working, according to Cooper, the local advocate.

“These are folks who may be working one or two part-time jobs but just not earning enough money at those jobs or getting enough hours to pull themselves and their families out of poverty,” Cooper said. “These individuals were optimistic about the future, and I think for many of them it’s a sense of betrayal. People’s dreams have been shattered.”

Some advocates and former recipients say they hope to bring the fight to Canada’s federal government.

“I’m not sure if that’s a very realistic goal at this point, but we are certainly going to have those conversations,” Cooper said.

Cherkewski, for his part, wants to fight to keep the program alive.

“I am going to take that anger, I am going to channel it, and I am going to come after this government,” he said.

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