Time to recycle one seriously frayed metaphor…

Nourish Project Talks About BASIC INCOME GUARANTEE

By JOELLE FAVREAU, Community Development Supervisor at YWCA Peterborough Haliburton/Nourish Project Manager

I’ve always been fascinated by the metaphors we use to talk about the world around us.  With their colourful and memorable images, they get us hooked quickly and help us make sense of our complex reality.  Metaphors, however, are not mere descriptions.  They guide our perceptions and, in so doing, become fertile ground for differing perspectives.

Take the expression our “social safety net”.  I find it highly problematic.  Maybe there was a time when this safety net actually provided a tight enough weave that ensured everyone was caught unharmed before hitting the ground.  I do not feel this image fittingly describes the reality we currently face.  My impression is that the circus has long left town and its high-wire safety equipment has now become a worn-out mesh, unable to engender any meaningful rescue operation.

Can we really talk about a safety net when we know that in our community alone, over one family in ten struggle to put food on the table?  Food insecurity in Canada is reaching such alarming rates that over 4 million Canadians are going hungry or worrying about getting enough food on a daily basis.  Where has the safety net gone?

That’s why an increasing number of community groups and individuals throughout the country are working to propose a significant transformation of our social programs and a new approach to addressing poverty.  This policy initiative is called Basic Income Guaranteed (or BIG, for short) and it comes equipped with a strikingly different metaphor – no longer a defective net but a solid income floor from which everyone can stand on sure footing.

This metaphor captures the idea at the heart of BIG:  to design an approach that will ensure everyone is able to meet their basic needs and live with dignity, regardless of their work status.  While not a new idea, BIG has been gaining increasing traction this past year.  Growing numbers of Canadians realize it’s time we truly find a way to build fairness and dignity for all.  This can only be done by embracing an innovative and radically new social policy best suited to our time.  Governments are coming on board as well.  In its February budget, the Ontario government announced that it will conduct a BIG pilot project in the fall to assess its impact.

When a metaphor is so frayed that it’s lost all its meaning, it’s time we recycle it and embrace one that can give us a firmer ground from which we can all stand tall to reach our full potential.


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