A Deeper Look at GLI: Is Public Provision Necessary to Meet Basic Needs?
This week’s web feature looks at the basic needs of every human being, arguing that these are rights rather than privileges that some people do not deserve.
But some will of course respond that basic rights don’t necessarily require public sector provision.
And they are right. Many people acquire basic necessities by using income from the labour market or from private investments. Charities and the voluntary sector also help many to meet basic needs.
But that is not an argument against public sector provision, only the need to balance public sector provision with contributions from other sectors of society.
Ultimately, the state has a responsibility to step in when there is a gap, and people’s needs are not being met through other means. The state also has a responsibility to ensure that people receive fair income from their participation in the labour market, by adopting living wage laws and enforcing labour standards.
Government also has the opportunity to offer the poor justice, rather than charity. People do need charity – hungry or homeless people need food and shelter right away, and not merely the promise of a poverty reduction strategy that will eliminate their condition within five years.
However, charity is not enough. Charity is insufficient to address the causes of poverty. By itself, charity will be limited in its power to pull people out of poverty or to prevent poverty from occurring in the first place.
Government, meanwhile, has the power to reform structures that create and perpetuate poverty. Through its capacity to tax and create universal programs, government also has tools that are not available to charities or the private sector. A progressive tax system, individual transfers like employment insurance, social assistance, tax benefits and Old Age Security are all ways in which the government can ensure that no one lives in poverty.
Therefore, while the state does not have the exclusive responsibility to meet people’s basic needs, it does have a shared responsibility.
A guaranteed livable income provided by the government does not ensure that everyone has all of their basic needs met, but it does ensure that everyone has the income security necessary to meet their basic needs.
Other sectors of society still have the opportunity to fulfill their responsibilities, and government still needs to be involved in the creation of affordable housing, a universal early learning and child care system, health care, education and many other areas. But a GLI is one way that governments can contribute to the effort to ensure that the human rights of every person are respected.
Chandra Pasma is a former CPJ Public Justice Policy Analyst.
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