The Ontario Basic Income Pilot Shows the Real World Problems with a Basic Income

Everyone needs to eat, and all of us, not just people with diabetes or other conditions, require healthy food. Everyone, therefore, should have the capacity to buy a healthy diet, and there is no good reason to have a separate program with different eligibility and oversight requirements to manage it.

According to Greg Mason, an academic who was engaged to assist in the early design of the project: “Ontario started mailing invitations in June 2017 and by September, after mailing 37,000 invitations it had managed to enrol barely 150 participants, well short of the original target of 2,000” (Mason 2018). There are likely many contributing factors to this failure; the prevalence of “scam” offers that are difficult to authenticate; a profusion of legalistic language insisted upon by lawyers; complexity and difficulty in filling out the form; and the requirement to allow access to tax information. Under-enrollment should have been anticipated because a phenomenon across many wealthy western countries is that the so-called working poor are reluctant to register for programs that require a declaration of poverty or need: a take-up rate of 30 percent is not unusual, but a rate of under a half of one percent is a singular achievement.

Due to the continuing difficulty of recruiting participants, the OBIP revised its enrollment process. Local organizations were engaged to set up group meetings of households likely to be eligible for OBIP benefits. The OBIP was explained at the meetings, and questions were answered; those wishing to enroll could complete an application on the spot with assistance from staff. There are no official data on the number and location of households that were recruited by the time of the experiment’s cancellation, but even if the overall target numbers were fully reached, the recruitment method meant that the OBIP was no longer a randomized study.

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