Basic Income 101

Basic Income has been associated with many labels over the years. It’s been called a Guaranteed Annual Income, a citizen’s wage, a state dividend, a universal benefit, a (non)conditional cash transfer, and a Livable Income. Essentially, Basic Income is a regular payment made to individuals through the tax system to ensure that everyone has their basic needs met. We believe everyone should have the right to an adequate standard of living and be able to live with dignity.​

The Basic Income We Want

Recognizing the values that underpin our vision of Basic Income in Canada is an important place to start the conversation. During our initial meetings with Community Actions Groups from across the province, we landed on the following core values:

  • ​Adequacy: It’s enough money to have one’s basic needs met
  • Autonomy: It offers people more life choices
  • Dignity: There is no stigma attached to accessing it
  • Non-conditionality: It is provided with no (or very few) strings attached
  • Universality of Access: Anyone who needs it, gets it

​Simple enough. Let's continue.


There are a number of different ways that a Basic Income can be delivered. It can be:

  • ​An income-tested top-up or supplement to ensure everyone meets a certain income threshold—similar to the Canadian Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) for seniors
  • A refundable tax credit that is paid to individuals in a series of payments throughout the year—similar to the Canadian GST/HST Rebate or Ontario Trillium Benefit
  • A demogrant or universal program that provides equal flat-rate payments to everyone (usually those in higher income brackets would see these funds recouped when they file their taxes)

Using special modelling software, the Basic Income Canada Network has published a Policy Report calculating the costs—and the many savings—associated with providing a Basic Income through the various delivery platforms described above. We look forward to future dialogue about which model might yield the best results.

Cost and investment

Basic Income costs less than you would think. To calculate the exact cost of a Basic Income, how it is financed needs to be considered. For instance, a Basic Income could be paid for in part through changes to the tax system. Closing tax loopholes or cancelling tax credits that benefit high-income earners would significantly offset costs.

Basic Income could also replace some existing income support programs, especially ones that are very expensive to operate due to the surveillance and policing of recipients. The money spent on an adequate Basic Income (without the necessity of policing eligibility) would move many people out of poverty who are currently trapped in ‘dead-end’ programs like Social Assistance.

There’s also the matter of investment. As with anything, upfront investment prevents costly repairs. Consider this in terms of public money spent on the real costs of social issues.

Research shows that income inequality and poverty lead to higher rates of social problems—things like physical and mental illness, child abuse and neglect, poor educational outcomes, and other issues associated with significant costs to public funds both immediately and down the line. A Basic Income (reflecting the values above) would lower poverty and increase economic equality—directly leading to less public money spent on managing social problems in health care, child welfare, and criminal justice to name a few. With a Basic Income Guarantee, people would be ensured they have an income floor on which to securely stand; they would have more autonomy over their personal finances and life choices, and be able to live with dignity.

There are volumes of national and international literature documenting the positive health and social benefits associated with Basic Income when examined from the perspective of investment.

Looking for more detail? Click here for the BICN Basic Income Primer Series.