THUNDER BAY — It will likely come as no surprise to recipients of the now-cancelled Ontario Basic Income Pilot (OBIP) program that a study has found the program was significantly helpful.
Its benefits, however, were reversed when the project was axed by a new government.
A Lakehead University social work professor led a research team that investigated the impacts, and is now making its findings public.
The planned three-year pilot was announced by the provincial government in 2017 and was subsequently rolled out in several communities including the Thunder Bay area.
It gave 4,000 participants up to $17,000 a year for a single person and up to $24,000 for a couple.
People with disabilities also received up to an additional $500 a month.
Recipients who worked had their payments reduced by 50 cents for every dollar they earned until their income reached $34,000 if single, or $48,000 if they had a partner.
The goal was to identify how a basic income might help people meet their basic needs while improving outcomes in food security, stress and anxiety, mental health, physical health, health-care usage, housing stability, education and training, employment and labour market participation.
However, after a new government took office in 2018, the $150 million program was scrapped.
Poverty reduction advocates in Thunder Bay said the abrupt cancellation put recipients into an immediate crisis mode.
Ravi Gokani, assistant professor of social work at Lakehead, and two MSW students subsequently interviewed 20 OBIP clients and 13 community members with knowledge of the program and the results of its abandonment.
The study was done in collaboration with the Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic.
The researchers found that OBIP recipients had enjoyed improved mental and physical health, and that they felt "humanised."
Gokani said "The cancellation of this pilot reversed the positive impacts."
The study also determined that the existing Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support programs – coupled with the precarious nature of the 21st century labour market – are inadequate to meet the monetary and non-monetary needs of Thunder Bay's poorest people.
According to the Lakehead Social Planning Council, about 15,000 people in Thunder Bay currently live below the low-income measure of $23,000 for a single person.
The complete findings of Gokani's study will be available on Feb. 10, 2021 at lakeheadu.ca/users/rgokani
He said the project is a response to a community-based need to know what happened during the OBIP and after its cancellation.
"Understanding these two elements, including the transition off OBIP, was all the more important given that the research-based elements of the pilot were cancelled almost immediately, even though payments continued well after," Gokani said.