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EDITORIAL: Staying ahead isn’t easy

People helping others when times are tough often muse, perhaps someday we won’t need services such as food banks.

It won’t be the first time we hear that shelves at the food bank in Pictou County are getting low as we enter a time of year when donors apparently don’t have the need front and centre. The profile of this venerable charitable service is always high heading into the Christmas season.

But spring and summer, not so much. To that end, the Pictou County Food Bank (East) and the United Commercial Travellers Pictonian Council 879 are holding a food drive today, at Sobeys locations and the Superstore, along with Foodland in Westville.

An interesting point from Susan Chickness, a volunteer with the food bank and UCT member – the east branch of the food bank is serving nearly 700 families a month, and that’s an increase over last year.

The hope is always to see decreased need. Will it eventually happen? A movement underway is hoping to tackle that issue in a direct way.

The Basic Income Guarantee Nova Scotia group wants the provincial and federal governments to conduct a feasibility study on the concept of basic personal income as a means of poverty reduction. The group's chairwoman, Dalhousie University professor Elizabeth Kay-Raining Bird, says more than 21 per cent of children and families in the province live in poverty, with rates even higher for Indigenous and African Nova Scotians.

In addition to helping solve a range of problems including food insecurity and unsafe housing, the group says basic personal income would be a help for the many rural areas of the province. It would allow people to remain there, rather than travel to urban areas or other provinces to find work, and could mean more help for the seasonal jobs in those outlying regions. That as well has been another pressing concern in many parts of the Maritimes.

This is an idea that has increasingly come under discussion in recent years. We can expect that to continue as more and more jobs are phased out with technological advances and automation. When we see such new innovations as automated ordering starting in some fast food restaurants – a traditional spot for people to get a start in the work world, or to maintain casual employment – we know where this is heading.

The general concept is that a basic income, with no strings attached, would replace the network of other income-support programs already in place, such as GST tax credit, welfare and employment insurance, with a single program, one that provides a reasonable amount to live on.

Presumably, for governments to afford such a program, corporations would need to contribute in the form of higher taxes. They might consider it in their interests, however, since they want people to have the means to buy their products.

Such a program seems inevitable. Governments in considering it will also need to look at potential downsides and determine how to handle them, such removing financial disincentives that discourage people from working when work is available. Otherwise, those industries that do need help wouldn’t benefit.

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