A basic income guarantee is a simple idea—just give people money. However, with the many ways it can be implemented—how much to give, who to give it to, which other programs to eliminate, which to keep, etc., etc.—“basic income guarantee” can mean many different things. Some definitions may be helpful.

Basic Income Waterloo Region defines basic income guarantee as money paid by a government to people on a regular basis to ensure that everyone has a reliable, adequate income to let them be healthy, live in dignity and participate in their community, regardless of their work status.

It would replace some existing income-support programs and would run in conjunction with other support programs. Which existing programs could be replaced and which should be kept will be explored in a future instalment of this series.

In Canada, the term “guaranteed annual income” is often used to describe the same fundamental idea, although it is being replaced with “basic income guarantee” or simply “basic income.” The Green Party of Canada includes a “guaranteed livable income” in its platform, and the Liberal Party of Canada recently adopted a resolution calling for a “minimum guaranteed income.” Other common names are universal basic income, citizen’s income and guaranteed minimum income.

Other parts of the world use different definitions of basic income.

  • Basic Income Earth Network defines it as “an income unconditionally granted to all on an individual basis, without means test or work requirement. ” European countries tend to use this definition.
  • The U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network uses this definition: “a government ensured guarantee that no one’s income will fall below the level necessary to meet their most basic needs for any reason.”
  • Basic Income Canada Network says “A basic income guarantee ensures everyone an income sufficient to meet basic needs and live with dignity, regardless of work status.”

These definitions reflect some of the values that underlie the idea of basic income: universality, dignity, adequacy, autonomy and freedom. These values will also be discussed further in another post in this series.

There are two main models on which basic income can be based. Under the universal demogrant model, everyone receives the full benefit amount regardless of other income they may have. The basic income benefit may be recovered from higher-income earners in some other part of the overall system, most likely through income tax. Under the top-up model (also known as a negative income tax), only people with incomes below a certain threshold receive the benefit. The amount received is reduced according to how much other income a person has. These models will be described in detail in a later instalment of this series.

Basic income, acting as a foundation on which other social programs can build, is expected to virtually eliminate poverty, increase income security, reduce income inequality, increase social cohesion, improve health and education outcomes, and stimulate the domestic economy.

Stay tuned for future instalments of Understanding Basic Income for detailed discussions of related topics.