The student case for a basic income

Motion-46 could lighten the load for post-secondary students

With the end of CERB benefits on Sept. 26 fast approaching, many Canadians are making the case for a universal basic income.

Leah Gazan, the Member of Parliament for Winnipeg Centre, put forth Motion-46 to propose a permanent Guaranteed Livable Basic Income (GLBI) for “all Canadians over the age of 18.” With over 37,000 signatures of support on Gazan’s basic income petition at the time of writing, the argument for implementing it is gaining momentum. 

For post-secondary students, many of whom have had to deal with precarious work conditions, coupled with having to adapt to abrupt changes in how classes are delivered, a basic income could prove to be beneficial. As a former post-secondary educator herself, Gazan says poverty has become the norm among many students. 

“As we see the cost of living increasing in Winnipeg, being able to go to school while being able to provide for yourself is becoming more and more compromised,” she says. 

If Gazan’s Motion-46 is passed, it won’t be the first time a guaranteed basic income has been implemented in Manitoba. In the 1970s, the Mincome experiment temporarily eradicated poverty in Dauphin, Man. by topping off existing income to meet a livable threshold. 

Dr. Evelyn Forget, an economist and professor at the University of Manitoba, was an undergraduate student at the time of the Mincome experiment. Her interest in these experiments led her to shift her academic focus to economics. Now an expert on basic income as a form of poverty alleviation, she argues it could ease the financial burden on students. 

“With the basic income available to students, they’ll have more time to focus on their degree in a reasonable period of time,” Forget says. “It’s hard to keep that focus and actually get that degree complete. It’s the case for everyone, but especially students in low-income families who can’t rely on that support.”

Brenden Gali, chair of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), says a basic income for students is in line with the organization’s end goal of universal, accessible post-secondary education.

“More financial support for students is only a benefit,” Gali says. 

For international students, Gali notes that many financial troubles are heightened due to limits on off-campus working hours. 

“They have more precarious working conditions when it comes to employment, only being able to work 20 hours a week outside of campus,” he says. 

Unlike the CERB, Motion-46 will have no work, training or educational requirements. While some raise concerns about the potential for it to disincentivize paid labour, research from basic income experiments generally suggests that is not the case. During the Mincome experiment, it was only those who had material reasons to refrain from paid labour, such as young mothers and high school students, who tended to work less. 

Above all, a basic income could help students who are forced to extend their degrees or work multiple part-time jobs focus more on their studies. 

“Students are a critical part of this,” Gazan says. “It’s time that students are properly supported.”

Those interested in Motion-46 can participate in a virtual Day of Action on Sept. 16. More information is available at leahgazan.ca/basicincome_dayofaction.

Published in Volume 75, Number 01 of The Uniter (September 10, 2020)

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