Annual income by stealth

If a guaranteed annual income is such a good idea, why hasn’t it happened yet? It’s supported by both the right and left ends of the political spectrum. The right-wing likes it because it reduces government bureaucracy by combining a number of programs into one. The left-wing supports it because, unlike the trickle-down theory, it really does lift all boats.

tax

My own opinions have ranged from elation to despair. In my column for the Kamloops Daily News in 2000, I wrote glowingly of it. This year, I titled my column “Why an annual income won’t work” and some readers thought I was being too negative.

Sixteen years after the first column, I now think it’s a good idea poorly marketed. If Canadians can’t buy the idea because it suggests money for nothing, then it should be sold as an income-tax-implemented annual income, ITIAN (my acronym).

Andrew Jackson, professor at Carlton University and advisor to the Broadbent Institute, also likes ITIAN but acknowledges past failures:

“This could be an important step forward, but incremental reform toward an income-tested guarantee for working-age Canadians delivered through the tax system will be the best path as opposed to more visionary ‘big bang’ solutions.”

Instead of a big bang annual income, apply it incrementally by stealth –through the income tax system.

Remind Canadians that seniors already have an annual income in the form of the Guaranteed Income Supplement to Old Age Security. It comes close to pushing seniors above the poverty line. Ease Canadians into it with child benefits.

“And pending improvements to income-tested child benefits promised by the Trudeau government will deliver a maximum transfer which comes close to the cost of raising children and will significantly reduce child poverty,” says Professor Jackson in the Globe and Mail.

Another area in which ITIAN can be applied is the plight of the working poor. Some Canadians are working hard, often at more than one job, and still they live below the poverty line. Additionally, some working-age persons have no or limited employment income. Before they collect social assistance, they have to exhaust almost all assets. Even then, they can only earn so much before pay is clawed back.

Old attitudes linger. At the heart of such meanness is the idea that the poor are deservedly so: they wouldn’t be poor if their poverty wasn’t warranted (insert usual labels here – good-for-nothing, lazy, drunken, native, bad parents, worthless).

Another problem that ITIAN must address is the shrinking eligibility for Employment Insurance benefits. While the Trudeau government has increased benefits in the wake of the collapse of fossil fuel markets, the increases have been unevenly applied and depend on where you live, not a basic living wage.

A solution already exists called the Working Income Tax Benefit. In its 2013 report, the House of Commons human resources committee recommended an increase to WITB to supplement the incomes of low earners who are not eligible for social assistance and who do not usually qualify for much if any for Employment Insurance benefits due to current rules and low and unstable earnings.

Hope springs eternal. ITIAN may be just the trick to make this decades-old dream happen.

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