Last year around this time we entered lockdown. During that time, we saw people turn their focus to their homes and gardens, learn about community sufficiency, and come together as a community.
As soon as CERB kicked in, people began to save money and invest it into things like their survival in the context of climate change, such as purchasing garden supplies and seeds. We’re actually still seeing the effects of that, for example, with seeds being out of stock everywhere.
In my personal experience, CERB helped me to adapt as a self-employed person as we were just about to launch a community-based tourism business when the pandemic hit.
Here are a few comments from friends in my community about the impact it had on them:
“We made the time to build relationships when we had CERB, relationships needed to adapt to these changing times.”
“We built community food growing gardens, pollinator gardens, helped our elderly neighbours and immune-compromised ill friends get food.”
“It’s a life changer when you are not fearful of being unable to afford your basic needs.”
This reflection led me to the idea that maybe Universal Basic Income (UBI) will just happen because it’s an adaptation capacity strategy. For example, we have the money to adapt to future snowmageddons, pandemics, stronger hurricanes, floods, drought, humanitarian crises, and more. As the modern adage goes, if you choose to put your own oxygen mask on first, you can be able to help others during an emergency.
Without CRB and CERB Canadians would have taken many more health risks and the COVID-19 pandemic would have placed higher financial stress on our healthcare system and resources, as it did with our southern neighbours. For years, we’ve seen evidence that UBI is the smartest course of action, partially because it would be less costly for the government to implement than it is to continue to use the current social assistance system. Also, it would begin to remove the shameful stigma of assistance.
I noticed that in my community, people talked about CERB more than they did about social assistance. One of the largest hurdles and misunderstandings with basic income from my perspective is the narrative that “people are lazy” and “poor people don’t want to work”. Old narratives and fear are what’s holding the implementation of UBI back, not evidence of its efficacy.
Another way of thinking of this would be that people who have lost their dignity, feel shame all the time, and have experienced multiple traumas may be struggling with burnout or their nervous systems may be in dorsel (retreat mode) or in fight or flight mode. It takes time to recover from this and the current system doesn’t make space for this recovery. This happens disproportionately more when the system of support creates scarcity, and people have to do shameful things to survive or to afford the help they need. This system hasn’t been updated in several decades and fails to provide enough financial security for people to live on, let alone thrive on. It is quite safe to say that it doesn’t work anymore.
Need evidence? Many of the programs (employment insurance, some social assistance programs, etc.) have had financial top-ups because when they calculated CERB and CRB, the federal government realized that these other programs didn’t offer enough to allow people to cover their basic needs and get the support they needed.
So this morning I started to think that it’s very likely that we’ll come to a point where it’s critical to implement UBI as an adaptation strategy because of the climate emergency and health crises (mental health, pandemics) will present us with more and more disruptions. I hope that we choose to plan and adapt to a UBI program in Canada before we have reached the stage in which we have no choice but to implement it, as we did in early Covid times.
Interestingly, there are a couple of Atlantic provinces that are already considering UBI at the highest level of government. Thanks to the events of the last year, they see it provincially as the only strategy that makes sense moving forward. It’s now just a question of the logistics of how to go about doing it.
If you’re interested in exploring this topic further, here are a few resources that point to the need for UBI and provide more info:
Universal Basic Income Panel, hosted by Transition Wolfville Area on April 18, 2020:
Includes evidence and stories from different people in the system:
Future of Food – Food Scenario Planning (Excerpt):
Includes presentations about Newfoundland’s snowmaggedon response, climate emergency responses by farmers in the Maritimes and future climate predictions by Dr. Bernard Soubry from Oxford University.
Basic Income Hamilton: website.
The stories of people who participated in the UBI experiment in Hamilton are fascinating to me.
“Food Systems and Climate Change in the Canadian Maritimes” from Environmental Change Institute (PDF), source: Bernard Soubry
“Climate resilience is financial resilience. Farmers are able to adapt their practices when they have the financial capacity to do so. This means supporting markets, business training, and practices that minimize risk and help build financial resilience.”
“Building adaptive capacity for the food system means recognizing small-scale farmers as actors in their own right. Possible avenues for policymakers include creating spaces where food system actors can dialogue and exchange knowledge; making sure that legislation differentiates between the needs of small-scale farms and large-scale farms; and promoting marketing avenues that distribute risk and open new markets, through institutions like co-operatives.”
What have been your observations on the effect lockdown has had on your community’s spending, saving, and debt reduction?
Do you think CERB and CRB have had a net positive effect on your friends, family, and neighbours?