The cost-of-living crisis and systemic barriers are causing increased financial strain for many, including university students. Now, one group of U of M staff and students is examining the issue of poverty and advocating for systemic change ahead of the provincial election on Oct. 3.
Bare Necessities is a group created by U of M Community Engaged Learning staff and students in partnership with Poverty Awareness and Community Action, a U of M program that raises awareness and offers advocacy workshops for students and the broader Winnipeg community.
The group aims to teach staff and U of M students “how to participate in social advocacy campaigns that may impact elections,” such as the provincial election currently underway. Bare Necessities’ main advocacy goal is to transform Employment and Income Assistance (EIA) into a livable basic needs benefit.
Currently, 146,000 Manitobans live below the poverty line, and those on EIA’s basic needs budget receive $245 monthly.
Anny Chen, program coordinator for Poverty Awareness and Community Action, and Madelaine Ricard, a recent U of M anthropology graduate and volunteer social advocate with Bare Necessities, see a livable basic needs benefit as the best policy for Manitobans. The group hopes that the program will allow people to thrive and lower the stigma of government assistance, as all Manitobans would receive the benefit, said Chen.
“If we start from the premise that people will be their best versions of themselves if they have their basic needs met, I think we could have a thriving society,” said Chen.
Ricard described the livable basic income benefit as a policy that would transform the current EIA system into one where all Manitobans receive a baseline income tied to inflation, that would cover one’s basic needs.
Through advocating for a livable basic income, Ricard hopes the group’s work will remind Manitobans that people are not choosing to live in poverty and that “people in poverty are people first.”
Chen noted that this time for advocacy is significant, as the COVID-19 pandemic and rising costs have affected people who have been experiencing poverty for an extended period of time, as well as an increased amount of people who are now struggling due to recent events.
“We can relate more to this issue, now more than ever,” said Chen.
The group has been active in its advocacy work, according to Ricard, who said members have been attending political events and calling on candidates to support their cause.
“No one should be struggling to house themselves or feed themselves.” Richard said. “These are basic human rights.”
The notion of a basic income is not new for Manitoba. In 1974, the community of Dauphin, Man., was home to a government-supported income experiment. On average, a family of four would receive $16,000 annually as a basic income, plus the money they earned while working.
The experiment’s goals were to see the social effects of such a program, if people left the workforce due to it, how an income program could be widely implemented and whether or not it could become an alternative to social assistance.
The program ended in 1979 due to changes in governing political parties and global political crises. However, the program did produce some promising results, including an increased rate of youth completing high school and a decline in hospitalizations by 8.5 per cent.
Ricard and Chen hope that Manitoba’s historical ties to basic income and newfound motivations for structural change could send a ripple effect of action across other provinces.
While advocating for a livable income is the primary goal of Bare Necessities, Chen and Ricard said that an income program on its own is not enough. The group would also like to see action taken to increase affordable housing, affordable transit, free healthcare, and a free education system.
As election day draws closer, Bare Necessities is focused on advocacy, especially voter action. The aim is to highlight the concept of a basic livable income benefit so that Manitobans can be informed on the issue come election day and ask their candidates if their government would support a basic income.
“Ultimately, we need policy to change, and we need the structures to change for people to experience something different than what they are now,” said Chen.