Canadians support guaranteed income, but don’t want to pay for it, think it will make us lazy: poll

Canadians appear to like the idea of a guaranteed minimum income; but they aren’t willing to pay for it and say it would discourage people from working, according to a new survey.

The Angus Reid Institute found that 67 per cent of respondents supported a guaranteed income of $30,000, provided that the payment would “replace most or all other forms of government assistance.” A majority of Canadians also supported guaranteed annual income levels of $10,000 or $20,000 per adult.

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The survey described the guaranteed income idea as: “those who made less than the threshold through employment earnings would be paid the difference by the federal government, while those who made more than the threshold would receive no additional funding.”

READ MORE: How would a guaranteed annual income work in Canada?

Sixty-six of respondents said they would not be willing to pay more taxes to support such a program, and 59 per cent said it would be too expensive to turn into a reality.

Another 63 per cent said it would “discourage people from working.” That number was highest among Conservative voters at 74 per cent, while NDP voters were evenly divided at 50 per cent.

READ MORE: Ontario government, Senator calling for guaranteed annual income pilot project

The idea of a guaranteed minimum income has seen a resurgence in public policy debates around the world recently; most notably in Europe where Finland plans to pay every citizen roughly $1,100 per month.

In Canada, the Liberals recently added the idea as part of its official party policy, while the Ontario government announced a pilot project as part of its provincial budget that would test a guaranteed basic living income.

One of the only Canadian studies done on the effects of guaranteed minimum income is the famous Mincome project held in Dauphin, Man., in the 1970s. Researchers found that after paying residents a guaranteed wage over a five year period, the benefits included lower poverty rates, less hospital visits and increased high school completion rates.

Will it keep people from working?

University of Manitoba health economist Evelyn Forget, who headed the Mincome project, said the challenge of implementing a guaranteed income is finding the right dollar amount that raises people out of poverty while keeping a financial incentive to work.

“You have to be careful when you’re designing this program to make sure you don’t accidentally create disincentives for people to work,” Forget said. “But I think [Canada] knows a lot about how to design social programs to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Forget said if Canada were to adopt a basic income it could be constructed similar to Canada Child Benefit, that scales payments to meet the needs of households on several different factors.

“Low income families would get an amount of money, and then as income rises it declines,” she said. “The costs would become much more reasonable.”

Forget also said most people would still be encouraged to work as the size of most basic income cheques wouldn’t be large enough to sustain the kind of lifestyle most would want.

The Angus Reid Institute said the findings also come as more Canadians are concerned that traditional welfare programs won’t’ be sufficient to support workers left unemployed by outsourcing and automation.

Almost two thirds of respondents (63 per cent) said they think new technology will “eliminate more jobs than they create.”

The Angus Reid Institute conducted an online survey from July 26 – 29, 2016, among a representative randomized sample of 1,516 Canadian adults who are members of the Angus Reid Forum. For comparison purposes only, a probability sample of this size would carry a margin of error of +/- 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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