Canada’s only experiment in guaranteed income finally gets reckoning
The Dominion, By Vivian Belik, September 5, 2011
Whitehorse, YK ”” Try to imagine a town where the government paid each of the residents a living income, regardless of who they were and what they did, and a Soviet hamlet in the early 1980s may come to mind.
But this experiment happened much closer to home. For a four-year period in the ’70s, the poorest families in Dauphin, Manitoba, were granted a guaranteed minimum income by the federal and provincial governments. Thirty-five years later all that remains of the experiment are 2,000 boxes of documents that have gathered dust in the Canadian archives building in Winnipeg.
Until now little has been known about what unfolded over those four years in the small rural town, since the government locked away the data that had been collected and prevented it from being analyzed.
But after a five year struggle, Evelyn Forget, a professor of health sciences at the University of Manitoba, secured access to those boxes in 2009. Until the data is computerized, any systematic analysis is impossible. Undeterred, Forget has begun to piece together the story by using the census, health records, and the testimony of the program’s participants. What is now emerging reveals that the program could have counted many successes.
During the Mincome program, the federal and provincial governments collectively spent $17 million, though it was initially supposed to have cost only a few million.
In the period that Mincome was administered, hospital visits dropped 8.5 per cent. Fewer people went to the hospital with work-related injuries and there were fewer emergency room visits from car accidents and domestic abuse. There were also far fewer mental health visits.
Give people financial independence and control over their lives and these accidents and illnesses tend to dissipate, says Forget. In today’s terms, an 8.5 per cent decrease in hospital visits across Canada would save the government $4 billion annually, by her calculations. And $4 billion is the amount that the federal government is currently trying to save by slashing social programming and arts funding.
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