The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit has become the first health unit in Ontario to officially endorse a basic income guarantee – and they’re hoping they can convince their provincial counterparts to follow suit.
Associate Medical Officer of Health, Lisa Simon, says their unit committed in 2012 to focusing on the social determinants of health as the best strategy for public health advocacy. Within the social determinants list, ‘income and income distribution’ is the first determinant considered.
“That’s why we decided we would focus on people living in low income, given the health inequities they face,” said Simon.
Simon stresses that she and her board see a basic income guarantee as a “very important policy measure” to bring people out of poverty and to improve their health outcomes.
Simon is involved with a health equity working group, where there are joint members between the Association of Local Public Health Agencies (alPHa) and the Ontario Public Health Association. After this group facilitated a panel discussion on basic income at an Ontario-wide public health conference, she then brought it to her board of health. They endorsed the concept and supported her submission of an alPHa resolution and backgrounder on this issue.
“In Ontario, at least, we’re first. Certainly no one has taken it to alPHa,” Simon tells Leaders and Legacies. The annual general meeting for alPHa is June 8, when a vote will be taken on the proposed resolution.
Within her proposal that she is hoping alPHa will adopt next week, Simon writes that alPHa officially requests “that the federal Ministers of Employment and Social Development, Labour, and Health, as well as the Ontario Ministers Responsible for the Poverty Reduction Strategy, Labour, Children and Youth Services, and Health and Long-Term Care, prioritize joint federal-provincial consideration and investigation into a basic income guarantee, as a policy option for reducing poverty and income insecurity and for providing opportunities for those in low income.”
She further writes that the Prime Minister, the Premier of Ontario, the Chief Public Health Officer, the Chief Medical Officer of Health for Ontario, the Canadian Public Health Association, the Ontario Public Health Association, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario” should also be advised of this stance.
When asked if she sees the potential adoption of the alPHa resolution as something that will get noticed and possibly help to spur policy changes, Simon struck a positive note.
“I would hope that when an organization like alPHa, representing 36 health units across Ontario…takes a position on an issue…then this should be seen” as significant.
“We provide expertise in the area of prevention and in the health of the population so when we make a policy recommendation that we feel is aligned” with these goals, “we hope it will be considered strongly,” says Simon.
She adds that “as public health professionals, if it is passed by alPHa, it would show basic income is an effective way” to address poverty and respond to the social determinants of health.