Basic income is a band-aid solution

Universal basic income fails to address systemic problems

Universal basic income (UBI) is the application of the radical, and somewhat devious, idea that citizens, for some reason, deserve to have their basic needs met.

UBI is a measure in which the government makes cash transfers to each citizen with a guaranteed basic amount. This idea has made such waves that it has now been tabled in the Canadian Senate.

The appropriately titled National Framework for a Guaranteed Livable Basic Income Act was under consideration by the standing senate committee on national finance, as of Nov. 27. Should this act be approved in the House of Commons, the minister of finance would be required to create a national UBI framework.

This income program would determine what constitutes a livable basic income that ensures a good quality of life. While I feel social welfare is important, especially for those who are unable to work for any number of reasons, it ultimately fails to address certain issues. Namely, it does not hold companies who fail to provide for their workers accountable.

For example, in 2022 alone, Loblaw Companies Limited made $56 billion in revenue with $1.9 billion of this amount being net earnings. However, on a starting Loblaws salary, one can expect to make a handsome minimum wage.

I worked for Shoppers Drug Mart, a subsidiary of Loblaws, for a total of two days and earned $15.30 an hour. Meanwhile, also in 2022, former president and CEO of Loblaws, Galen Weston, was given $8.4 million in compensation.

Between the low pay and precarious nature of part-time work, many Loblaws staff are left in economically vulnerable situations. Loblaws, however, is simply an example. There are thousands of Canadians who find themselves working for poor pay across the country.

While $15.30 an hour probably sounds like quite a bit of money, when one stops to consider cost of living in Canada it is much less impressive. The average one bedroom dwelling in Canada sits at $1,889 monthly and $1,282 in Winnipeg. If you find yourself with a friend, family member or some other person who tolerates you, the average two bedroom dwelling is $2,329 nationally and $1,692 in Manitoba.

Meanwhile, the average cost of food rose 9.8 per cent in 2022, and gas rose 28.5 per cent.

You might be shouting right now, “but columnist Braden! We need UBI to save us from the greed of Loblaws and assorted landlords!”

On a financial level, I have no issue with UBI. I could always use more cash in my pocket. But UBI fails to address the fact that companies like Loblaws and the housing market generally are simply allowed to continue running amok.

UBI removes the responsibility from employers, landlords and any other private entity while forcing taxpayers to flip the bill for their social welfare. It hardly seems appropriate that rather than force a higher federal minimum wage or a maximum rental cost, the solution is to simply hand out cash transfers sourced from government income.

Canada, as a nation, should not absolve the individuals and corporations responsible for paying workers and housing citizens of their responsibility to the people of this country.

There are at least three basic measures Canada could take to address this issue.

Firstly, companies must pay a living wage according to the local cost of living. There is no excuse for a CEO to bring in millions of dollars while employees barely recoup their expenses. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives estimated that a living wage in Manitoba in 2022 was $18.34 an hour. If Canadians can afford to make their employers billions, employers can afford to pay their employees a living wage.

Secondly, Canada must have rent control that comes out of the pockets of landlords rather than the taxpayer. Rent control should be adjusted to minimum wage rather than the whims of the market. A UBI framework would do nothing to address the absurd costs used to line the pockets of landlords. There is no issue with taxes going toward social welfare for those who need it, but the taxpayer shouldn’t flip the bill when the average taxpayer didn’t cause the problem.

Thirdly, grocery costs need to be lowered at the expense of corporate bodies. Profiting off of the survival of the masses is bad enough, but with rising costs across the country, something must be done.

Feel free to explain how the invisible hand of the market or the tough economy is hurting everybody, but the fact of the matter is that profit margins are up. Were the cost of food rising simply because of factors out of the control of the capitalist overlords who sell us our chips and soda, this would not be the case. I don’t know about you, but I would sleep better at night if Loblaws’ revenue percentage and food costs both dropped.

Of course, those who cannot work deserve social protection and the changes I recommend would not assist anyone who cannot work. One should not have to go hungry or without shelter because they mentally or physically are unable to work. Statistics Canada found in 2011 that the employment of Canadians with disabilities sat at 49 per cent against a 79 per cent for those without. In situations like this, social welfare is necessary.

Before Canada starts cashing cheques, profiteers in this country must be critically examined. Canada ought to take from the pockets of the moneymakers before taking from the pockets of the moneyless collective.