The conversation around basic income has been gaining traction in Ontario, with the provincial government releasing a pilot program survey that will be open until January 31st. The gist of a basic income program is to grant everyone a base ‘livable’ amount of money per month on a sliding scale that decreases the amount a person gets depending on how much they make from work or other sources. Unlike some other forms of income assistance, basic income is a safety net that isn’t dependent upon working, looking for work, having to stop working in order to qualify, or proving disability. (A full report on the project from the Ministry of Community and Social Services is available here.) We at RFU support the concept of basic income because, if implemented properly, it would make a considerable material difference to countless women.
The Feminization of Poverty: Women have higher rates of poverty than men virtually everywhere. Women as a class also have more burden of responsibility for others in terms of money, time, and energy. Poverty is, of course, also correlated to race and immigrant status: women of colour, First Nations women, and immigrant women make up a high percentage of low-paying, difficult, and insecure jobs like Personal Support Workers. Women and girls living in poverty are at high risk of entering prostitution in order to survive.
Abuse and toxic relationships: Financial dependence is the primary factor that forces women to stay in abusive or otherwise toxic relationships. In addition to women’s higher rates of poverty in general, abusers usually isolate women from other sources of support in order to cultivate their dependence and destroy their sense of functionality. Making rent alone can be extremely difficult, especially in a place like Toronto, so many women feel forced to move in with partners or parents even though the power imbalance in the arrangement can be detrimental to their well-being.
Mental and physical health: People with invisible or high-functioning health problems–mental and physical–can have a difficult time getting income assistance for their disabilities and may refuse assistance due to stigma against ‘welfare.’ Women suffer from high levels of health problems including anxiety, depression, PTSD, PCOS, and untreated pain. Those who can work are still at the mercy of employers who are not particularly sympathetic to any need for reduced hours, flex time, or other accommodations.
Criminal records: The majority of women who have been through the prison-industrial complex are victims of male violence, child abuse, prostitution, trauma, and other forms of violence. Many are in prison for fighting back against their abusers, and by the end of the process, will have been victimized at least three times over: by their abuser, by a legal system that fails to do justice to female victims of male-pattern violence, and by societal prejudice against criminalized people regardless of the circumstances of their case.
It’s no exaggeration to say that basic income could mean the difference between life and death for millions of women and girls in the province. Although basic income isn’t inherently radical, it does have the potential to give workers some leverage against exploitation under capitalism by giving them leeway to reject jobs with poor working conditions, low pay, and excessive hours.
Basic income is a good idea simply because no one should live in poverty. No one should become homeless and starve to death because they don’t make good fodder for capitalist exploitation. No one who can work should have to choose between exploitation and poverty. We don’t exist to be exploited for fun or profit.
RFU has sent an abridged version of this post as a joint statement in support of the Basic Income Pilot to the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services. We hope that eligible readers will take the survey, and we welcome women to comment with what basic income would mean for them and what material effects it would have on their lives.