This article appeared in the Sept. 27, 2020, copy of the “Marathon Mercury”.
On the eve of last week’s throne speech members of the United Church of Canada and their ecumenical partners were gathering across Canada (at an appropriate distance). Those unable to be present at the demonstration were invited to share a photo of a candle during their lunch hour with the tag #universalbasicincome. Maybe you’ve heard the term Universal Basic Income on the news recently. But, why were Christians demonstrating? And, how might a town like Marathon benefit from a UBI?
A Universal Basic Income is a guaranteed annual income. Simply, it is a policy which ensures all Canadians live above the poverty line. The United Church of Canada has been advocating for a guaranteed income since 1972. Part of the idea is that it equals the playing field. We are more aware than ever how prejudices, like institutional racism, affect our social programs. A UBI is meant to be available across the board eliminating inequalities in the distribution of social goods.
The UBI program reminds me of the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). Jesus writes about a landowner who hires workers early in the morning, as well as some shifts later in the day. When the landowner pays all workers a day’s wage the earliest arrivals complain. The landowner scolds his employees, asking them why they think they should be able to police his generosity. Jesus suggests that the kindom of God is run in the same way. I support a UBI both because of my faith and my values as a Canadian. Christ calls us to generosity and care for the poor, and as a society I believe we value protecting one another from the uncertainties of life, holding up things like universal healthcare as a marker of how we want our society to be run. A UBI is an obvious expression of these two worldviews.
Many different people benefit from a UBI. Certainly, there are those living paycheque-to-paycheque who have to choose between rent and fresh produce. But a UBI would also benefit entrepreneurs who need the stability to try something new. Small towns with a low cost of living and great opportunities for those who can afford to live there. Businesses who need clients with disposable income to patronize them. Charities who rely on the generosity of their donors to support their work. Everybody wins with a UBI. Our town, which has community members living in poverty, would benefit from such a program.
If you’re interested in learning more about a UBI you can visit the basicincomecanada.org. If you support a UBI you can call or write to your local MP, to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Chrystia Freeland, and ask them to seize this moment to roll out a guaranteed livable income program, building a universally accessible program, that would preserve human dignity rather than creating stigma.