Currie’s Corner 617, April 26, 2018
North American society, particularly out here on the Canadian prairies, is still hugely reluctant to give money to people who choose not to work, even if they are unable to work for a variety of reasons. Running counter to this is the obvious notion that we are generally a caring and generous people. Many of us mutter quietly when we see panhandlers on the street .. “get a job!”, but others do give something. If they didn’t, the beggers wouldn’t be out there. During hard times, particularly in the dirty 30’s, the poor had to come before local elected officials and beg for ‘relief’ as it was known then. It amounted to public ‘shaming’, and it was far from our finest hour.
But as technology advances, and globalization continues, the number of people who won’t be able to support themselves and their families by working is only going to grow. It was somewhat surprising this week to hear the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce urging the Conservative provincial government to think seriously about implementing a guaranteed minimum income. More than 40 years ago, there was a pilot program of this kind in the Dauphin area of Manitoba, but it ended quietly without much in the way of proper assessment. Once again the protestant work ethic prevailed.
We think of Scandinavian countries like Finland as being more advanced than North America in dealing with poverty, but it’s not always the case. For the past year, Finland has been trying out what was called a ‘universal basic income’. 2,000 people who are considered ‘chronically unemployed’ have been given about $700 Canadian each month, without having to provide any accounting of where it went. Now the program is ending and it seems the hardliners are getting some of their own back.
Finland is now adopting rules that threaten to reduce unemployment benefits unless the recipients take job training, or show greater evidence of actually looking for work.
Sometimes it seems that T.S. Eliot was bang on when he declared April to be the cruellest month. Thankfully it’s almost done.
I’m Roger Currie