I got interested in the basic income guarantee because I don’t think income security should be mainly a question of luck.
I was lucky to be born into a white, middle-class Canadian family in the 1950s. These fortunate facts influenced everything. When I was a young adult, work was easy to find, shelter was affordable, and I knew I could get help from my family. They were not wealthy but they were secure and available. I did not realize it at the time, but I was lucky to have a family that could offer financial help if needed.
I never thought much about the security I was lucky to have. I worked hard, raised two kids on my own after two divorces and managed to provide well enough (with limited financial support from one ex-husband). I remarried in 1993, and until the company we worked for was sold, we were both very secure in our careers.
It was in the early ‘90s that I began to observe the consequences of low-to-no income. A woman who was working as a temp at my office happened to live near me, and I was able to give her a lift most days. We became casual friends. She was a single mum. She had worked in social services for the B.C. government but she and other co-workers were terminated as a “cost-saving measure” the prior year. At the same time she and her partner split but he provided no support for their children. This was the first time I saw what it was like to fend completely for yourself after major setbacks. She did not have financial help from family and had to be on welfare. The restrictions to earnings, the judgment she dealt with, the loss of “status” and the difficulty she faced to readily feed, clothe and shelter her family were frightening and eye opening. She was me—without luck.
I guess I “woke up” in the mid ‘90s. The sale of our employer, and the friend who was going through such tough times shook my complacency, and I began to become aware of the broader world. I had a vague idea that I wanted to help with anti-poverty groups. I had a negative gut reaction to charitable solutions. I knew homeless shelters were necessary but were short-term answers to long-term problems. I had no idea what to do or how to help.
Advocating for basic income is something I can do. My grandfather was a believer in guaranteed income since the Depression. He died when I was quite young so I never had the chance to learn from him. I wish I could have, because it has taken a long time for me to realize that income security for all Canadians is not a pipe dream. It is the reasonable and responsible solution.
We need to take luck and charity out of the equation. We should recognize the economic, psychological and physiological benefits to individuals and to society of guaranteeing a basic income to our citizens. We can all work to make it happen.
“It is justice, not charity, that is wanting in the world.” —Mary Wollstonecraft
Wendy recently made a temporary relocation to Waterloo Region and is pleased to be an active member of the BIWR team. She hopes to contribute and learn all she can so she can start up a basic income advocacy group in the Cowichan Valley of British Columbia when she returns home.