Precarious Bodies at Work:Stabilizing Lives through Basic Income Security Ernie Lightman, PhD & Andrea Vick, PhD Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto
Funding for this project is provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada
Two main purposes • To show an alternate path towards the goals of a BI; and • To illustrate using a case example of episodic disability in Canada
Different Paths to a BI • Typically approach on a Universal Basis in most countries • Canada, perhaps, has taken a different path • Good or bad???
Universal approach • Demogrants (on spending side) • Negative Income Tax (on taxation side) • This occupies most of the literature • Though taxation has been much less addressed
A different approach in Canada • A Sectoral Approach • Through specific programs to specific groups • Historically, 1945, a BI grant to all children (mothers) • 1949, same thing to seniors • Better on adequacy • Later (1980’s) there were pullbacks/targeting
Today in Canada • Seniors: Not badly done • Single mothers: On the right path • People with disabilities: Very little done • After these 3 groups, mainly leaves single employables • Treated differently
In principle • If we could cover every/most group, the overall outcome would be the same as with a demogrant • Would differ in detail and operation but the final result would be a BI for everyone • Can discuss whether this approach is better or worse/ more or less efficient, etc etc • But it is more realistic in the Canadian context
Example: A Basic Income for Workers with Episodic Disabilities • Persons with episodic disabilities, particularly women, are marginalized in the Canadian labour force • Unpredictable cycling into and out of the workforce • Fluctuating health trajectories - Barriers associated with a precarious job culture • Face significant barriers to employment
Episodic Disabilities • Physical and mental health conditions marked by recurrent, unpredictable, fluctuating periods of health and illness • Multiple sclerosis • Chronic fatigue syndrome • Fibromyalgia • Multiple chemical/Environmental Sensitivities • Chronic pain syndromes • Musculoskeletal conditions • Psychiatric conditions
Methodology • Social Assistance in the New Economy Project (SANE) 2002-2007 • Secondary analysis of 30 longitudinal, semi-structured qualitative interviews • Modified, thematic analysis combining phenomenology and grounded theory
Participants • 13 participants (8 women, 5 men), 30-55 years of age • Cycle on and off Ontario Works (short-term ‘emergency’ assistance • Denied eligibility for Ontario Disability Support Program (long-term support) • Physical conditions (Cardiac disease, Hepatitis C, Lung Cancer, Degenerative Disks, Diabetes, Arthritis, Bulimia, MSK) • Depression (Bipolar Disorder, PTSD, SAD)
Barriers to Employment and Income Security A ‘Precarious’ Embodiment • Shifts in bodily functioning, pain, fatigue, energy levels, side effects of medication • Fear of leaving stable refuge of income security programs because of “risky” health trajectory • Organization and nature of precarious jobs may aggravate bodily conditions
The main barrier for me finding work is my dissociative disorder. I black out. Sometimes it’s only ten or twenty minutes. . . So there’s no consistency for me to work on a full or part-time basis. I’m not reliable. . . If I was an employer, I wouldn’t hire me.
My biggest barrier getting a job is my seasonal affective disorder. Last year I stayed home and in summer months, I get better. Another barrier is my bulimia. I gained a lot of weight and it has affected my health. I also have arthritis. There have been times that I got a job but wasn’t able to keep it cause I would get sick in different ways.
I have depression, arthritis, high blood pressure, diabetes, trouble with my back and neck, and my memory is bad. I haven’t always been on welfare. I haven’t completely got off because I don’t know if I’m going to be capable of working steady. That’s my worry.
The Embodiment of Work • Social construction and organization of ‘work’ • Ableist ideals: The ‘normative worker/body’ • Precarious work culture values • Perceived and actual discrimination
Existing Programmatic Barriers • Individual rehabilitation and rapid labour market (re)entry • Lack of investment in longer-term education, skills training, and post-employment resources • Absence of flexible job accommodations • Neglects precarious labour market conditions
The Participation Agreement was something shoved in front of me and I signed. There was no discussion of a plan towards employment. Ontario Works won’t help me get a job. They don’t really work with people to get them back on their feet.
Ontario Works set me up with training courses. I went to a course at Job Start and I got three jobs through them. . . But they send you to places that are in receivership or downsizing. That’s what happened to me and I was well then. So there’s no security.
The Rhetoric of Income Support Policies • Classification as either entirely sick/well, able/disabled, un/employable, un/deserving • Conflicts with fluctuating ‘lived realities’ • ‘Not disabled enough’ for long-term support - Absence of partial benefits
A Basic Income for Episodically Disabled Workers • Focus on ‘severe’ and ‘prolonged’ disabilities • Refundable Disability Tax Credit (RDTC) • Canada Pension Plan-Disability (CPP-D) • Tiered System (Caledon): BI as long-term support for those not expected to work • Partial work capacity (Some OECD countries)
BI moves beyond discretionary welfare model, divisive classifications, ableist work standards • Eases physical and psychological vulnerability • Combine with robust disability supports and improved labour market access
Return to Sectoral Approach • Advantages • Potentially feasible; might be attained • Incrementalism is realistic in existing climate • Might ‘sneak under the radar’ of political opposition to a BI • Flexible; can accommodate different groups’ needs in different ways
But many disadvantages • Plays one group against the other • Hierarchies of deservedness • Uneven coverage • Gaps that some groups/individuals will fall through • Different speeds to implementation • Different levels and kinds of coverage • Hard to negotiate complex rules, procedures • Breaks notions of solidarity
Overall • In principle, Universalism is likely preferred • But we don’t need to choose • We can argue for accelerated incrementalism at the same time as we fight for universalism • As long as the struggle for a BI covering people with episodic disabilities does not set back the struggles of others
Final word • In Canada, incrementalism/sectoral approach is potentially on the table • Has the advantage of being potentially attainable • Do we go for it and perhaps set back the battle for a universal approach???