Life during COVID-19 Furthers Arguments for Guaranteed Livable Income

By Tessa Martel 

What is a Guaranteed Livable Income?

What is a guaranteed livable income (GLI)? Well, there are many different types of guaranteed livable income. Basic Income Canada Network explains that “a basic income ensures that everyone can meet basic needs and live with dignity regardless of their work status. It is unconditional income from government sent directly to individuals”. In order to be an effective tool that works towards substantive equality, the principles of universality, non-conditionality, security, autonomy, dignity and economic and gender equality should guide basic income dialogue and design. 

Schools of Thought

There are two main schools of thought that can be found among basic income advocates. One, set out by free-market economist Milton Friedman several decades ago, sees a basic income as a replacement for most public services. The second school of thought sees a guaranteed livable income working with existing public services. In this school of thought, a guaranteed livable income would address societal issues such as poverty and insecurity that are currently being dealt with by other public services (such as hospitals) to the detriment of these services being able to perform their primary function effectively.

Models

How would a guaranteed livable income be delivered? There are two main models. The first is the Universal Basic Income (UBI) where everyone receives the same basic income amount no matter how much other income they have. Higher income earners will see their UBI effectively taxed away. 

The second model is the refundable tax credit or Negative Income Tax (NIT) model. This model provides payment to people whose income falls below a certain threshold. Those whose income lands above the threshold would not receive the payment, but they would have security knowing it is there. 

Something that is important to note about both of these models is that GBI is not a form of income support that is intrusive, rule-bound and or stigmatizing. Aside from your income, there are no requirements to meet, questionnaires to fill out, or meetings with social workers. In essence, they are the opposite of ‘welfare’ of ‘social assistance’ models of income support. 

Why is a GLI a Feminist Policy in the Age of COVID-19?

One in three women worldwide experience physical or sexual violence mostly by an intimate partner. With the outbreak of COVID-19, what many feared would occur is being confirmed by those on the front lines—all types of violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, has intensified. Economic insecurity and inadequacy of wages can be a factor considered by women who are in these dangerous situations. A guaranteed livable income could help women and their children free themselves from situations of domestic abuse and exploitation.

One objective of a well-developed guaranteed livable income program is to recognize the value of reproductive and home-based care-giving work, while also allowing women to choose whether and how much to work for wages. As we are all well aware, we are currently living through a global pandemic where women and men are feeling like they are “always on”, and the boundaries between work and home have been blurred (if not eliminated). Prior to COVID-19 women were doing up to three times more unpaid care giving work than men, and we can only assume that has increased. As a result, one in four women are considering leaving their job or slowing their career. A social program that compensates for home-based care-giving work could be a solution to the “covid fatigue” and provide security for women who are being forced to choose between being an effective caregiver and their career. 

Published by Tessa Martel

I am a third year feminist law student at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law.

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