What’s in a Name?

Many Basic Income Guarantee groups across Canada and around the world are developing programs of basic income. They insist on the importance of the name, Basic Income Guarantee (BIG). They sometime reluctantly use Guaranteed Annual Income (GAI), an old phrase which falls short, both in terms of meaning and in terms of public policy goals.

First, the name, Guaranteed Annual Income (GAI), gives an “out” for public policy makers, who may interpret this as doing a little more of the same, a little increase here, a little increase there, but still leaving a high percentage of people living below the poverty line. The policy makers often refer to programs already in place which are in fact GAI based, such as the Guaranteed Income Supplement for low income recipients of Old Age Security or the National Child Benefit. These programs address the depth of poverty faced by seniors and youth. However neither program is based on the actual costs of living for seniors or families with children. For many people, programs such as these tend to guarantee continued poverty.

There are two essential aspects represented by the use of the name, Basic Income Guarantee. One is that governments must agree to “ guarantee” an income to all residents. The second emphasis is on the word  “basic”, which identifies that the guaranteed income must be sufficient to cover all basic needs: healthy food, decent housing, adequate clothing, child/elder care, transportation, and normal family and community involvement. 

Secondly, the title, Guaranteed Annual Income,  provides opportunity for contrarians who may want, for various reasons, to undermine the work of Basic Income Guarantee. They use the titles interchangeably, even though it is clear that GAI and BIG  represent essentially different analyses and goals relating to a livable income for all.

A challenge for politicians in the upcoming elections: get used to using the title,  Basic Income Guarantee. More important still: include Basic Income Guarantee as an essential part of your election platforms and policy directions for future governments.

Marie Burge represents Cooper Institute in the PEI Working Group for a Livable Income

Published in The Guardian 20 March 2015

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