Noralou Roos, the founding director of the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy, says the link between poverty and health is clear.
“I’ve spent my whole career understanding the factors related to health and health status,” says Roos.
“It’s very clear how strongly poverty is related to poor outcomes, in both health and education. I became very interested in this as a phenomenon,” she says.
With regard to the cost of implementing a basic income, Roos says that one time at a conference she remembers someone comparing the cost of more hospital beds versus the cost of increasing incomes for lower-income Canadians.
“It was dramatic, the savings from increasing incomes,” she says, referring to the upstream benefits.
“One of the things we’ve found in the research that we’ve done is the lower your income, the sicker you are.”
Roos says the more time someone spends in a hospital, or the more visits to emergency rooms that occur, the costs go up incredibly.
“The Canadian system works very well in that people who get sick get care — but it’s expensive,” she says, which is why she advocates for dealing with poverty more directly, through a basic income.
There is a prevailing stereotype that suggests lower-income Canadians are using hospital emergency rooms too freely, creating a lot of unnecessary costs, when they may not even be that ill.
However, Roos’ team at one time did a careful review of low income patients at hospitals, using hospital records.
“There was no question they were as sick if not sicker as anyone else,” she says.
“If you look at why they are in hospital — higher rates of suicides, accidents, but also heart disease and other common diseases,” there was no question their health would have been better in the first place with a higher income, she says.
Roos says increasing other existing benefits would also be an option, but she thinks basic income is the best way to approach it.
“I’ve been impressed by the work of Dr. Evelyn Forget in Dauphin, Manitoba,” she says, referring to Forget’s work studying the outcomes of the 1970s era basic income experiment.
“Her work demonstrated a decreased use of health services and increased high school participation rates,” Roos points out.
Roos has also been active in a ‘Get your Benefits’ project in Manitoba, a way of reaching out to ensure those who are eligible for various programs and tax advantages apply.
“We are trying to get people to realize they can increase their income if they apply to these programs,” the professor says.
“Fortunately, there seems to be interest and uptake.”