Abstract: The Human Face of Basic Income: Results of a Qualitative Study with Former Recipients of a Basic Income (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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The Human Face of Basic Income: Results of a Qualitative Study with Former Recipients of a Basic Income

Thursday, January 21, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Ravi Gokani, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, ON, Canada
Background and Purpose: In 2016, the Liberal Party of Ontario in Canada implemented a 3-year pilot project to test the viability of a basic income. In 2018, the project launched in three cities. Each individual received $17,000 CAD, couples received $24,000 CAD, and individuals with disabilities were eligible for a $6,000 CAD annual top up. The project had a quasi-experimental research design built in to measure outcomes, with 4000 people receiving payments and 2000 people in a control group. However, within months of the pilot launch, a provincial election was held and the Liberals were replaced by the Conservative Party of Ontario; and within days of winning, the leader of that party and now Premier of Ontario backtracked on his campaign promise to keep the pilot going. With the project cancelled abruptly, the research was immediately shelved, and participants, who would receive payments until March 31, 2019, reeled. This paper presentation tells the story of those participants. I asked three research questions: (1) How did the basic income impact recipients’ lives (for the 6-14 months they received it)?; (2) How did the abrupt cancellation impact recipients’ lives; and (3) How did recipients experience the transition off of basic income back into their lives?

Methods: Data were collected with a qualitative design using semi-structured interviews. In collaboration with a local community legal aid clinic that serves recipients of social assistance, I used convenience and snowball sampling to recruit 31 participants, 23 former recipients (5 male, 18 female) and 9 key formants. Interviews were audio recorded, transcribed using NVivo, and analysed using Thematic Analysis.

Results: The analysis revealed several key themes, including (1) the positive impacts of the basic income on mental health, financial stability, nutrition, and relationships; (2) the negative impacts of the cancellation on these four factors, as well as an increase in distrust and anger toward government; and (3) a rather mixed transition for participants, either back onto other social assistance programs or, in some cases, back to work. In addition to these, I share a few emergent themes, including a critique of contemporary work culture, and share a few vignettes of participants.

Conclusions and Implications: I discuss three major things in the conclusion and implications portion of the paper. First, I give an update on the political fallout of the cancellation, including a class action lawsuit against the government. Second, I discuss the implications of the basic income pilot and the study’s findings in light of COVID-19, as the negative impact of the pandemic on the global economy has made louder the voices of those advocating for a basic income; for instance, in both the United States and Canada, many have pointed out that the financial response measures such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and the Economic Impact Payments in the United States function like a basic income. Third and final, I discuss the implications of the findings and basic income broadly for social work, social welfare, and social policy, including existing social assistance programs.