Sample Policy Brief: The Guaranteed Annual Income (GAI) in Canada
Here’s a sample policy brief for social work students, policy writers, and social workers. I’m an MSW student at UBC; this policy brief was for my graduate-level Advanced Canadian Social Policy class.
My instructor didn’t give us a sample policy brief, so I researched “How to Write a Policy Brief” and read a few dozen actual briefs before I wrote (and rewrote, and edited, this one). If you have to write a policy brief, you may find inspiration here…
Also – if you’re keen on getting your Master’s of Social Work, read How to Get Into Grad School – Master’s or PhD Programs.
Social Policy Brief:
The Guaranteed Annual Income (GAI) –
Eliminating Income Inequalities and Polarization in Canada
Canada has more inequality and poverty than most Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries (the Canadian Index of Wellbeing, 2009). According to Stats Canada, almost seven million workers earned less than $20,000 in 2001, and two million workers were paid less than $10 per hour. In 2009, Food Banks Canada reported a 20% increase in the number of Canadians turning to food banks each month. The steadily rising gap between the rich and poor in Canada – described in detail in Appendix A – isn’t just a problem for people living in poverty. It’s a social problem that directly affects the relationships, interactions, health, and freedoms of all Canadians as well as every level of government.
The current approach of income transfers and taxes is not bridging the gap between the rich and poor. We know this because: 1) income disparities and polarization are increasing, not decreasing; 2) the needs-based social welfare programs, such as provincial social assistance, create a sense of shame and stigma; 3) social assistance doesn’t meet minimal basic food and shelter needs; and 4) welfare isn’t a long-term solution to the problem of poverty.
The most effective way to redistribute income and reduce the problems associated with poverty is through a Guaranteed Annual Income (GAI), set by the federal government and delivered through a negative income tax. Past political debates reveal that the GAI isn’t the easiest short-term solution short-term, but its long-term benefits are impossible to ignore.
Context of the Problem
“Many poor people speak of poverty in terms of humiliation, isolation, safety, and inhumane treatment; in some cases, poor people speak about these negative social aspects of poverty as being worse than the lack of income (Hick, 2007). Earning or receiving low (or no) income creates despair, shame, isolation, and stigma.
Further, Canada’s grossly unequal earnings lead to negative, unrealistic perceptions of and attitudes towards the “other.” For instance, the poor perceive the rich as an advantaged elite, which can create dissension, jealousy and anti-social behaviour. “This, in turn, can lead to increases in crime, loss of participation in social and charitable organizations, and greater demands for government organization to help deal with these social tensions,” (Cameron, 2012).
The majority of people living in poverty are the working poor – not welfare recipients (Poor No More). The gap between the rich and poor isn’t just about substandard welfare payments; it’s about people who have jobs but live in poverty due to low pay and high expenses.
Society as a whole pays the price for the problems associated with poverty. The poor get sick first, stay sick longer, have more serious literary problems, are more often involved in substance abuse, are overrepresented in Canada’s expensive penal system, and produce the largest amount of workload for our police forces (Segal, 2008).
Our country needs a better way to solve these problems. Our social programs have failed.
Critique of Current Social Policy Options
Canada has many income replacement and supplementation programs that attempt to redistribute income, including Social Assistance, the Working Income Tax Benefit, the Canada Child Tax Benefit, Employment Insurance, and Old Age Security. However, in the late 1990s there was a significant reduction in redistribution levels. The fact that the gap between rich and poor is increasing (Cameron, 2012) proves these policies aren’t solving the problem of poverty.
Take Social Assistance, for example. Welfare payments aren’t enough to live on, much less encourage recipients to better their lives. When Jagrup Brar, MLA Surrey Fleetwood, took the MLA Welfare Challenge, he lost 26 pounds in one month. “I learned a great deal from my experience of living on $610, the welfare rate, for the month of January 2012,” he said. “One thing I know is that it is extremely difficult to get enough nutritious food. I was often hungry and at times my head was fuzzy. I believe it is important that we shine a light on poverty, specifically the highest child poverty that exists in BC.” (Raise the Rates, 2012). Even if social assistance was enough to live on, it runs recipients emotionally and physically ragged.
Social assistance creates more social, personal, and financial problems than it solves, partly because it affects how rich and middle-class people perceive and treat the poor. “Social welfare programs have always tended to stigmatize recipients, largely because welfare support is seen as a sign of some deficiency in the recipient,” (Rice and Prince).
The scope of this brief does not permit discussion of how other income programs fail to address poverty. For a full picture, see Appendix A.
Policy Recommendation: The Guaranteed Annual Income (GAI)
The GAI empowers people, gives them greater control over their lives, and reduces the stigma and intrusion of other programs (Lightman, 2003). It decreases government bureaucracy, cuts red tape, and reduces the cost of social programs. It eliminates the negative effects of poverty and eases the burden on the penal system, social services, and government as a whole.
The GAI provides all Canadians with a minimum cash payment, without an income or means test (thus eliminating stigma and shame). The GAI is independent of an individual’s income or employment status, and ensures all Canadians have the means to take care of their basic needs. If and when individuals earn income in addition to the GAI, they pay taxes. Howie (2011) says, “the benefit is reduced at the ‘taxback’ rate of (t)—where t is between 0 and 1. In other words, for every dollar of income the family earns, it loses t times $1. Because it can never receive less than the amount G, this is tantamount to guaranteeing it a minimum payment.”
The benefits of the GAI include national eligibility, discrete support of people who are disadvantaged, and an improved progressive income tax system. The GAI eliminates the other programs, which are complicated, costly, and a drain on the system. This program encourages equality between genders, ages, races, cultures, socioeconomic statuses, and opportunities. It levels the playing field, which contributes to the health and cohesiveness of Canada as a whole.
Critics of the GAI argue that it discourages people to work less or not at all. However, Canada’s experiment with the GAI in the 1970s showed that the reduction in work effort was modest (Hum & Simpson, 2001). More pressing concerns are how to design and deliver the GAI (e.g., does income depend on family size or location? Will seniors or postsecondary students receive a different amount?). See Appendix B (Possibilities and Prospects: The Debate Over a Guaranteed Income) for a comprehensive description of how to implement the GAI in Canada.
The GAI is a short-term challenge, but an effective long-term, sustainable way to permanently bridge the gap between rich and poor. The economic, social, emotional, and physical health of Canada and her people depends on it.
If you can’t write your own policy brief, read How to Study When You Can’t Focus.
Cameron, Mark (2012). Why Canadians Should Care About Income Inequality. In The Canada We Want in 2020 (pp 1-6). Ottawa: The Caledon Institute.
Hick, S. (2003). Social Work in Canada: An Introduction (3rd ed.). Toronto: Thompson Educational Publishing.
Howie, Peter (2011). Guaranteed Annual Income: Derailing Economic Growth. Options Politiques, April, 57-59.
Lightman, E. (2003). Social Policy in Canada. Don Mills: Oxford University Press.
Raise the Rates Launches Welfare Food Challenge (2012, September 25). Vancouver, BC. Retrieved October 12, 2012 from the World Wide Web: http://raisetherates.org/2012/09/25/raise-the-rates-launches-welfare-food-challenge/
Rice, James J. and Prince, Michael J. (2000). Changing Politics of Canadian Social Policy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Segal, Hugh. (2008). Guaranteed Annual Income: Why Milton Friedman and Bob Stanfield Were Right. Options Politiques, April, 46-51.
Torjman, Sherri and Battle, Ken (2012). Inequality is Not Inevitable. In The Canada We Want in 2020 (pp 14-21). Ottawa: The Caledon Institute.
Poor No More: Facts About the Working Poor in Canada. Retrieved October 12, 2012 from the World Wide Web: http://www.poornomore.ca/files/workingpoor.pdf
Young, Margot and Mulvale, James (2009). Possibilities and Prospects: The Debate Over a Guaranteed Income. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.