The Canada Child Benefit: A Basic Income Guarantee for Families?

Do you have the 20th of every month circled on your calendar? If so, you are probably a parent. The 20th is when households receive the Canada Child Benefit, a monthly tax-free payment to adults who are raising children under 18. 

Last year, when the Canada Child Benefit was implemented, Jean-Yves Duclos, federal minister for families, children and social development, described it as a basic income for families. The Canada Child Benefit is another example that demonstrates that basic income is not a new or radical idea in Canada. We already have some basic income guaranteed programs in place for specific groups, in this case for children.

The Canada Child Benefit includes some features consistent with BIG principles. It is a reliable, solid base that can be counted on month to month. It is calculated for every child whose parent files taxes: if you’re a child under 18, you’re eligible. Because the amount is adjusted according to income, those who need more receive more. Because it is untaxed income, parents don’t have to worry about earning extra money that might bump them into a higher tax bracket. Because there are additional benefits still available for children with a disability, the Canada Child Benefit recognizes that “basic” needs differ for different people. 

The Canada Child Benefit is not a livable income, set at a level that would meet all of a growing child’s basic human needs, such as healthy food, safe and warm housing, learning resources, and social participation. And if the Canada Child Benefit is to succeed in lifting children out of poverty, we will have to confront the uncomfortable fact that you can’t address children’s impoverishment without addressing adult impoverishment. In our culture, it’s easier to argue for a basic income for children, who are not expected to earn an income, than for adults, who are valued or judged based on the amount and the source of their earnings.

In PEI, in the years prior to the Canada Child Benefit being introduced, successive annual studies showed more than a fifth of children live in households that worry about having enough food. In future studies, we hope the Canada Child Benefit will improve this statistic. 

For now, some food-insecure households get their income from social assistance, and the Province of PEI is in the midst of a five-year process to raise social assistance food rates to just 70% of the research-established cost of a basic healthy food basket. Some food-insecure households get their income from low-wage jobs that leave them dependent on charity such as food banks to make ends meet. Asking for social assistance or for charity costs a certain amount of dignity. 

Basic income does not lessen a person’s dignity. Like the Canada Child Benefit, it just arrives in your bank account on the 20th of the month. No one reviews how you spend it. No one threatens to take it away. 

Basic income guarantees benefit women. Women in Canada carry a greater share of caregiving tasks, for both younger and older generations. The Canada Child Benefit provides much-needed financial support during the highest-demand time for caring, family commitments, community engagement, and volunteering – which for women is also the time of peak productivity in work and career. The Canada Child Benefit is there to support time away from work for caregiving – or to support childcare for more time at work. It does not discriminate against parents for working or for staying at home.

We look forward to the day basic income guarantee programs will be in place for all Islanders, of all ages. 

Michelle Jay and Jane Ledwell represent the PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women in the PEI Working Group for a Livable Income.

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