By Jana MacKenzie, Allied Arts Council on October 2, 2021.
During the long days of isolation and shut-downs we’ve all had the arts to keep us entertained and connected. And though theatres, live music venues, and galleries were the first to have their doors shuttered, artists across disciplines continued to produce and present their work virtually, and often for free. This disruption is not only felt at the individual and local level, but also federally, where as outlined by Statistics Canada, the arts and culture sector contributed $53.1 Billion to Canada’s GDP in 2017. The Canadian Association for the Performing Arts (CAPACOA) reported that in 2020, alongside recreation, the arts and entertainment sector experienced the largest loss of employment. However, it was workers in the performing arts sector that felt the biggest blow to their income, with nearly 61 per cent less hours worked. The roll-out of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB) provided many Canadian workers the income support needed to keep a roof over their head and food on the table. Many of these workers experienced, some for the first time, how powerful a consistent and guaranteed income could be for their mental and physical well-being. Unfortunately, there remained many who were ineligible for government support because their prior year income was too low to qualify.
The COVID-19 pandemic, and resulting social and economic upheaval, has shone a light on the gaps in our income support system and the unfair valuation of work throughout our society.
When we consider all of the unpaid and undervalued work that props up our economy, providing a direct minimum income to individuals when they need it seems logical. We need to do away with the old adage of pulling oneself up by the boot-straps, because we know that without boots there is no leverage. Economic recovery policies tend to focus on investing in the private sector to stimulate job creation, but with-or-without tax breaks to corporations or grants to small businesses the prevalence of low-wage, precarious work remains a reality. It is estimated that one in seven Canadians are living in poverty and in Alberta, 78 per cent of low-income families are working-poor. Our post-pandemic economic recovery plan cannot ignore how effective and necessary it is to invest directly into the lives and livelihoods of individuals and families.
Unlike current income support programs that disincentivize work and penalize individuals for seeking out training and higher-education, a basic income policy would recognize that people have different needs when it comes to building resilience and investing in their future.
A basic income would guarantee an income floor for everyone and because of its effectiveness and simplicity, would reduce bureaucracy and red-tape. A basic income is about preventing poverty and filling the gaps left by the labour market.
Alongside adequate mental health, family, and disability services, a basic income (whether it be universal, income-tested, or a negative income tax) is about treating people with dignity and directly confronting income inequality. Such a plan would definitely support those in the creative arts and culture sector providing much needed stability – especially in uncertain times.