When Luca Gheorghica was living on just $245 per month through Employment and Income Assistance, some weeks he chose between paying rent, eating proper meals, or buying other essentials.
When the federal government doled out $2,000 a month during the early part of the pandemic to those affected by restrictions, Gheorghica felt like he could finally breathe.
“It changed my life … I wasn’t in survival mode, I was living,” he said on the steps of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights Saturday morning.
University of Manitoba students took to the streets to demonstrate the difficult decisions people living in poverty need to make every day, and advocate for universal basic income.
“Living low income, you don’t just pay for your items, you have to do the math and really grapple with that every day,” Gheorghica said.
The demonstration was a student-led initiative designed to raise awareness of issues related to affordability ahead of the provincial election on Oct. 3.
Groceries, personal hygiene items and rent have gone up, but EIA rates haven’t.
“People are struggling with inflation that have livable income, how are those living without a basic income?” Gheorghica said.
To receive EIA in Manitoba an applicant must be between 18 and 65-years-old and demonstrate financial need.
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According to provincial data, a single adult with no children receives a monthly, tax free payment of $796 between EIA, Rent Assist and federal government payments.
Josh Brandon of the Make Poverty History Manitoba Coalition said the long-term costs of poverty are greater than the short-term cost of paying to end it.
Brandon has looked at pilot project modelling which proposes a universal basic income available unconditionally. Some modelling suggests it can lift people out of poverty, improve health and improve access to education.
“People’s employment actually improved over the long-term,” he said.
In the lead-up to the election all three major parties have committed to bringing in affordability measures amid an increasing cost of living and inflationary pressures. The Progressive Conservatives are promising broad tax cuts while the New Democrats are proposing freezes on gas taxes and hydroelectricity rates. The Manitoba Liberal Party committed to establishing a minimum income for people over 60 and people with disabilities.
Family doctor Dr. Jacqueline Anand views poverty as a public health issue. The physician has seen an uptick of patients facing food insecurity in recent years resulting in widespread health issues.
“We’ll see consequences of that, we know that there’s high rates of diabetes in this province, and it’s directly linked to the rate of chronic renal disease,” she said.
She says those complications are putting more strain on the healthcare system, which continues a cycle of spending money which could be better spent elsewhere.
Gheorghica knows a universal basic income would work, because he experienced it first-hand.
“We proved it through the pandemic, that it’s possible. So let’s keep it up.”
— with files from Katherine Dornian