Consultation Response – Basic Income Pilot

5/18/2017

We are pleased to respond to the Government of Ontario's consultation on the Basic Income Pilot. An estimated 187,000 people who are blind or partially sighted live in Ontario. The employment rate of working-age people with vision loss (35 per cent) is lower than that of people with other disabilities, or people who do not have a disability. As a result, many working-age Ontarians with vision loss depend on social assistance, including the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and Ontario Works (OW). We request that the following recommendations be considered when developing the Basic Income Pilot, to ensure that Ontarians who are blind or partially sighted are fairly represented in this pilot.


1. Eligibility

1.1 Are there specific groups of people or populations who should be targeted in the Pilot, such as the under-employed, social assistance recipients, or newcomers? Why?

1.2 What should the Pilot use to determine eligibility? Should eligibility be based on an individual’s income, or should eligibility be determined by total family income? Why?

We recommend against limiting the pilot to a certain demographic (such as newcomers). Vision loss is a low incidence disability, and restricting the pilot to a particular demographic risks excluding meaningful data on this group (as well as other low incidence disabilities) who will be heavily affected by changes to ODSP. The Basic Income Consultation Guide states that a test site should accurately represent Ontario's population by "including members of Indigenous communities, racialized communities, immigrants, social assistance recipients, and low-income workers." We advise that people with disabilities are recorded as a distinct group whose outcomes in the pilot should be analyzed as a category in its own right.

Eligibility should be tied to an individual's income and not their family income. People taking part in the pilot should not be discouraged to form or leave relationships because it will affect the income they receive. Tying the eligibility to the individual's income gives them the opportunity to have autonomy over their own financial situation.


2. Site Selection

2.1 What are the most important things to think of when selecting a Pilot location? Why?

2.2 How do you think Pilot sites should be selected?

2.3 Do you think it’s important to have saturation and RCT sites? Why?

2.4 Should the government consider phases for sites, e.g., starting with RCT and doing saturation sites later?

We believe that saturation sites should be selected from rural, urban (rather than the distinction being northern and southern Ontario) and Indigenous communities in different areas of the province, to understand how the pilot will be affected by the unique considerations of each setting. If the Government of Ontario wishes to track the behavioural responses of individuals rather than general trends of a community, we would recommend a Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT) in tandem with the saturation site model. For both models, a good number of participants with disabilities should be included for meaningful impact analysis.


3. Benefit Design

3.1 Should the Basic Income amount be enough to significantly raise incomes and reduce poverty, or should it provide a base level of income to provide a certain level of stability? Should the benefit amount alone get people out of poverty or should it be a combination of benefits and earnings that accomplish this goal? Why?

3.2 Beyond money, what other services and supports (e.g. employment, mental health, housing, etc.) are needed to accompany the Basic Income? Which are most important?

3.3 What elements of Ontario Works and ODSP should Basic Income replace? What about other benefits outside of Ontario Works and ODSP, such as help with childcare, employment start-up benefits to help cover the costs of trade tools, uniforms, etc., or drug and dental benefits? Why or Why not?

3.4 What other factors should be considered when determining the Basic Income level. Why?

The amount of money paid should both significantly raise income and provide financial stability. People living on a low income cannot often plan or save for the future because they are living under extreme financial pressures. Having a higher and steady amount of income means that a person can plan for the future and find a way out of poverty, instead of living in fear of losing their social assistance if they look for work or return to education.

The benefit amount alone should be enough to get the person out of poverty, not a combination of benefits and earnings. Jobseekers who are blind or partially sighted are often underemployed or unemployed because of societal attitudes about their abilities. For example, 70 per cent of Canadians say that, presented with two fully qualified job candidates, they would hire a sighted job candidate over a blind one. People with vision loss often cannot rely on having another source of income outside of social assistance, even when they are actively seeking work. People should not be penalized and forced to live in poverty because they cannot find work. The system should also not penalize people who find part-time or short-term work in order to gain experience that will help them find full or permanent employment.

We agree with The Hon. Hugh Segal's recommendation that no one should lose any of the other support benefits they receive through ODSP or Ontario Works, and would advise the government to proactively raise awareness of the Basic Income Pilot to government agencies and third parties that administer these supports, so that someone is not mistakenly refused access to additional support. 

We also agree with The Hon. Hugh Segal's recommendation the $500 supplement for people with disabilities should be adjusted based on research that determines the exact cost of different disabilities. The pilot should also consider that a certain amount goes further in different geographical locations, depending on the health and context of the local economy. 


4. Pilot Delivery

4.1 The Discussion Paper recommended a NIT model for the Basic Income. Do you agree with this recommendation? Why or why not? If not, what model would you prefer?

4.2 Should the Pilot consider delivering payments in an alternative method to the Canada Revenue Agency delivery system proposed in the Discussion Paper, if they are available?

4.3 How should the Basic Income respond to changes in income circumstances?

Regardless of which delivery model the government chooses, the most important administrative consideration for people with vision loss is that there is a streamlined and automated process for requesting and receiving information in an accessible format (both personal information and general information about the scheme). People with vision loss should be able to make an informed decision about their involvement in the Pilot and have knowledge of the process, either as a participant or an interested member of the public.

When considering using the Canada Revenue Agency delivery system for delivering the pilot, it is important to consider how accessible the tax system is to people on low incomes who face barriers to filing taxes, such as not being able to afford third-party assistance to navigate the bureaucratic process.

As discussed in The Hon. Hugh Segal's paper, we endorse the recommendation of having the option of bi-weekly payments for people who have financial planning challenges because of their disability. We would also recommend having the $500-disability premium prorated for each bi-weekly payment for those who are eligible. 

 

5. Evaluation of Outcomes

5.1 Do you think that data and evaluation results should be made public on an ongoing basis?

5.2 What changes in behavior would you expect to see with a Basic Income? What kind of results should we see from the Pilot to call it a success? Why?

5.3 What strategies can we use to encourage people to participate in the pilot?

5.4 To measure outcomes, we would need people to share their personal information, including linking administrative data together. What concerns would you have about using this information to see how people use benefits and services differently after getting a basic income? How can we make you feel that your information is secure?

5.5 So that we can compare the outcomes of Basic Income to the status quo, we would need people to share their personal information, even if they didn’t receive the Basic Income. Would you be comfortable with this so that we can understand these differences?

5.6 If you are a Pilot participant, should you receive results prior to any public report release?

When the government considers ways to make participant data secure, the security features should not create accessibility barriers for people who use access technology, such as screen readers or magnifiers. For example, CAPTCHA systems can often be inaccessible – the fonts should be selected for accessibility and there should be an audio version of the phrase shown on the screen. Similarly, regardless of how the government decides to share results with the individual and the wider public, the information should be shared in an accessible method, both electronically (accessible pdf, WORD documents) and as hard copies (braille, audio, large print, etc.). People who require accessible formats should receive this information at the same time as people who can access printed materials and don't use access technology.

Indicators of success for people involved in the pilot (including people with vision loss) would include:

  • People housed appropriately and securely
  • Employment and adult education rates going up
  • Greater participation in local community, i.e., volunteering, attending community events and spending money in the local economy
  • Fewer payday loans and emergency financial relief sources used (i.e., foodbanks)
  • Greater sense of dignity and self-worth for the individual
  • Government heeds what the data is saying and meaningfully adjusts the methodology for further rollout or scraps the pilot if not successful.

We commend the government for investigating how to improve the lives of people who are living in poverty in Ontario, including raising the amount of money paid when compared to ODSP or Ontario Works. We hope you take our comments into consideration when designing the pilot, and look forward to learning more about the Basic Income Pilot in Spring 2017.


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