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Basic Income as an equity issue in remote communities

Roderick Benns

It might not be surprising to learn that in Tuktoyaktuk, a community of about 900 people on the edge of the Arctic Circle, life isn’t easy.

About 79 percent of the people who live there are Inuit. In 2012, 21 percent of the population received support in the form of income assistance. A full 85 percent live in subsidized housing.

Known simply as ‘Tuk’ to the locals, for generations the village was only accessible by plane in the summer and ice road in the winter. (The village will finally be linked by a two-lane, all-season road by next year – an extension of the Dempster Highway to Inuvik south of Tuk.)

One of the most difficult things about life in remote areas of Canada are the day-to-day barriers local people face, such as transportation issues and dealing with government bureaucracy. For instance, Northern News Services reported just last week that a woman named Clara Bates had her income assistance payments cut off this spring for not having paperwork properly filled out. She is but one of a group of Tuktoyaktuk residents who faced the same issue, according to Northern News, and it may be months before it can be restored.

Western society is becoming increasingly formalized. There are copious amounts of paperwork obligations for virtually everything in which there is a transaction of goods or services.

A basic income guarantee would only require each person to file their income tax once a year. There would be no monitoring and ongoing forms to fill out for this money for basic needs. It would create significantly more freedom for people in their already busy lives and remove the stigma of welfare. To get ahead beyond the basics, people would work to top up their incomes without fear of massive claw-backs like we have with the current welfare system. If there is no work to be found, they will at least be taken care of and less likely to use the health care system nearly as much, as decades of research has clearly shown.

It takes a great deal of energy and understanding to be able to navigate ‘the system.’ It takes a great deal more to do so in a rural context, whether in Canada’s Arctic territories or even in the vast northern areas of our provinces. In the case of Clara above, and for people like her, having to regularly applying for benefits or services that are needed for survival is becoming increasingly immoral.

As economist and basic income advocate Guy Standing writes, “We must realize that the growing structural inequality is socially unsustainable…We must change that if we are to produce a good society fit for the 21st century, in which all of us have a life of dignity, freedom and self-control.”


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