Three-quarters of people who were employed before joining Ontario’s ill-fated basic income pilot project continued to work while receiving the no-strings-attached monthly stipend, according to a new study.

And more than one-third of those low-wage workers were able to move to higher paying and more secure jobs, according to the study by McMaster University researchers being released Wednesday.

The findings shatter the belief among skeptics that basic income discourages people from working. It also appears to contradict the Ford government’s charge that the experiment was “failing” before it was cancelled in July 2018, the report argues.

The Progressive Conservative government in Ontario is moving ahead with its for-profit welfare plan. The pilot program, launched in February, would see the employment services used by welfare recipients outsourced to private contractors.

This privatized model for welfare services is not unique to Ontario. It has been tested in other jurisdictions like the United Kingdom and Australia. The results from these overseas experiments should give pause to the Ford government’s insistence to go forward with their for-profit scheme.

The Nippissing Parry Sound District Health Unit claims one in seven families faces food insecurity and officials say this issue can cause serious health implications.

Food insecurity is defined as a household that does not have enough money to buy food. It can range from the anxiety about running out of food, to skipping meals to buying cheaper, less healthy options.

“We’re trying to raise awareness in the North Bay Parry Sound District about the magnitude of the problem,” said Erin Reyce, a public health dietician.

The health unit says poverty is the root of food insecurity, and the District of Nippissing Social Services Administration Board says food insecurity is linked to low household income and the high cost of living. It’s a problem the administration board is trying to tackle.

Poverty, health and the coronavirus

Common sense prevention advice against COVID-19 is not so easy for those living on low incomes.

If we truly want to keep our communities healthy and protect against the spread of illness, whether COVID-19 or anything else in the future, we need to pay more attention to the relationship between health and income inequality in Canada.

Let’s take the guidance around staying home when sick: Last year, Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s changes to the Employment Standards Act eliminated two paid sick leave days and empowered employers to require sick notes from workers when taking time off for an illness.

Fast forward to our current situation: If you are a low-wage worker needing to do a shift at the grocery store, the local food court kiosk, or at a pharmacy front counter, and your rent or the hydro bill is due next week, might you risk the chance of going into work if feeling just a little unwell? Time off could mean financial desperation or a lost job.

Canadian public health officials repeat reassurances that the risk of COVID-19 in Canada is low or mild, and continue to ignore social conditions that put people at serious risk. We are told that a country with a strong public health system such as Canada is at lower risk for virus spread. Yet this year, 235,000 people will face homelessness, an opioid overdose epidemic remains unchecked and Indigenous communities continue to face inadequate housing and unsafe water supplies.

In all the COVID-19 media coverage I have not heard one mention by the public health experts of poverty, homelessness or the shelter conditions that force people to live in tight quarters with hundreds of people. But public health officials have always ignored these conditions, whether it was during SARS or subsequent dangers.

Last week federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu suggested people should prepare as they would for a natural emergency such as a severe snowstorm — by setting aside a week’s supply of food, medicine and other household supplies.

But with Toronto recording a seven-per-cent increase in food bank usage between 2018 and 2019, there are concerns that many people are simply not able to make that kind of preparation.

“Having a week’s worth of food stockpiled, having a month’s worth of food stockpiled is not an option for individuals who are making use of food banks,” Neil Hetherington, the CEO of the Daily Bread Food Bank, told CBC News.

Cutting essential services harms those who need them most

Premier Jason Kenney talks an awful lot about how Alberta is struggling, but rarely do we hear him or his ministers talk about the individual Albertans who are struggling and, even if we did, we’d have to take the concern with a grain of salt considering they are implementing austerity policies that are going to make things a whole lot worse for a whole lot of people.

Austerity is when governments attempt to reduce their budget deficits by reducing spending on public services. The problem with austerity is that it has never worked to jumpstart any economy and, in fact, has proven repeatedly to have the opposite effect. Worse, imposing austerity at the wrong time can increase unemployment and trigger a recession.