Social work involves a response to dire circumstances including illness, addiction, crime, exclusion, and homelessness. Not surprisingly, all of these states have been shown to be exacerbated by poverty. While many social and personal circumstances no doubt interact to contribute to unique experiences of struggle, it is clear that, across all identities, these struggles would in most, if not all, cases, be alleviated if individuals knew they could trust in a dependable source of income.
I see Basic Income, as proposed through the Ontario Basic Income Pilot, as a levelling agent, though not in a strictly monetary sense. Arguably, the recipients of a Basic Income might transcend the obligatory status of “clients” and be released of the burden of continually proving the veracity of their hardship. Their energies might be spent elsewhere and new images and roles might be allowed to develop.
While welfare programs in Ontario have been linked to expectations of looking for work, and are therefore implicitly linked to notions of productivity, Basic Income, as I understand it, is associated, with an unconditional valuation of individuals in and of themselves, without reference to their productive worth. It will be important to keep this in mind as the “success” of the Ontario Basic Income Pilot is measured. That is, we must be mindful about assumptions of success necessarily being attached to engagement with “work”.
In a climate of limited and increasingly declining work opportunities, we must recognize that not everyone will have access to workplace opportunities and it will be those who are already most marginalized in society that will likely be excluded. As jobs diminish, social workers are increasingly tasked with the inclusion and “empowerment” of these excluded individuals through granting access to resources. Basic Income would relieve, at least to some degree, this burden. It offers an opportunity to eliminate the necessary component of guilt and indebtedness attached to welfare, and thereby facilitate instead real and natural inclusion. Social work might then be enabled to respond more creatively to needs beyond those directly related to basic survival.
MSW Student with SPRC