Money vs Money Management Course

Having written about guaranteed annual income (GAI) many times over the past five years, I was pleased to read Cape Breton-Canso MP Mike Kelloway’s May 10 opinion piece in the Cape Breton Post about the possibility of introducing such a plan in Canada, but rather taken aback by the bizarre reaction to his suggestion in a subsequent letter to the editor.

 

The author of the latter described GAI as “throwing money at people.” (Not sure what else might be thrown at those living in poverty. Bitcoin? Can you throw virtual currency?) I assume the writer views social assistance, child tax credits and guaranteed income supplements for seniors as “throwing money at people,” which suggests to me she’s never needed any of them.

No, the answer, according to the writer, is a Money Management Course to teach students all they need to know about the “cost of food, clothing and the basic need to survive.”

But in order to manage money, you must have —  guess what? — MONEY! Although I would suggest the amount of money provided by Social Assistance in Nova Scotia can be managed quite easily – pay the rent and then attempt to pay heat and lights, food and clothing, travel expenses (gas and car payments and insurance or bus tickets) with whatever is left over. Simple. Money management at its best! God forbid that you should be able to go to a movie once in a while or get the kids a pizza.

 

The 2020 Report Card on Child and Family Poverty in Nova Scotia by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) indicates that 41,370 children are living in poverty in our province. In fact, Nova Scotia, with a 14.8% poverty rate, has the third-highest provincial rate in Canada and the highest in Atlantic Canada. I find it very hard to believe children living below the poverty line — with parents working minimum-wage jobs or trying to survive on Social Assistance — are not already well aware of the cost of food and clothing.

They know they can’t have many food items that, as I write, have become so expensive that many of us refuse to fork out the extra money for them. (When a staple like a 5-lb. bag of potatoes can be sold for the same price we paid for a 10-lb. bag last week, there is something drastically wrong. No wonder food banks are every bit as much a necessity now as they were when first introduced back in the ’80s.) They certainly know they can’t have Xboxes or tablets or iPhones.

And the best money-management skills in the world aren’t going to help families find affordable housing in this province.

Back in early May, Aidan Tompkins, treasurer for ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) told the Chronicle Herald that his rent had increased by 29%, which meant he had to pick and choose exactly what he was able to budget for from his monthly income — Money Management 101!

In 2020, Statistics Canada updated its Market Basket Measure (MBM) — intended to represent “a modest, basic standard of living” and used to measure poverty — to reflect changes in the costs of its component goods and services. Of the five components making up the MBM — shelter, clothing, food, transportation and “other” (which includes things like cell phone service) the largest increase was for shelter.

Which is why another recent CCPA report, from the group’s Housing for All Working Group, calls on the province to “frame housing as a “human right” which would “ensure that everyone has access to safe, affordable and adequate housing.” The report recommended the province build or acquire 33,000 permanent affordable housing units over 10 years to help the over 30,000 Nova Scotia households currently paying more than 30% of their income for accommodations.

It’s a big ask, especially when dealing with people like our letter-writer who would no doubt perceive such a “right” as another total waste of our money.

 

In his latest Cape Breton Post opinion piece, Adrian White also questions the value of a GAI, one reason being that it has “never been successfully implemented on a mass scale.” Well, the reason it hasn’t been is because in both provinces where it has been implemented on a trial basis, Manitoba and Ontario, Conservative premiers cancelled it as soon as they were elected.

On the other hand, well known Conservative, former senator and long-time GAI supporter Hugh Segal (whom I have quoted extensively in various articles, including this one from last June) put forward a GAI plan that would expand the CERB benefit that was so well received during the early days of the COVID pandemic. Segal’s plan would provide $1,400–$1.500 a month for single individuals and $2,400 for couples living below the poverty line and “dependent on one of the many provincial welfare systems.” which represented, at that time, 9% of Canadians.

White claims to be neither for nor against a GAI, and does generously agree that “it would be great to give disadvantaged Canadians more money to improve their standing in life,” yet he devotes a great deal of ink to the problems involved in actually doing this.

He repeats the number one mistaken opinion that so often comes up when there is talk of “giving” needy people government funds in the form of a GAI, that is, of course, that many would accept the money and retire to their respective homes and never work another day in their lives. But the basic income pilot programs in Manitoba and Ontario found this not to be the case.

There are many reasons why people find themselves struggling to survive financially — low wages, high rents, rising costs for necessities like food and utilities — but a lack of money-management skills? I don’t think so. Money management is alive and well without the benefit of any course. Necessity can make sharp shoppers of us all.

Instead of offering a Money Management Course as a panacea for the poor, why not urge the provincial government to up the minimum wage to at least $15 an hour? (Even though, according to those in the know, an hourly wage of close to $20 an hour is considered necessary in order to live a reasonable life in Halifax and would certainly be a similar need in Cape Breton.) Why not call for more spending on affordable housing?

We know these things won’t happen unless voters throughout the province demand it.

 

 

 

Dolores Campbell, a lifelong resident of Sydney, is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Cape Breton Highlander, the Nova Scotian, Cape Breton Magazine, Catholic New Times and The Cape Breton Post.