The relationship between poverty and negative health outcomes is extremely clear. As the World Health Organization has stated, “poverty is the single largest determinant of health, and ill health is an obstacle to social and economic development. Poorer people live shorter lives and have poorer health than affluent people.”
The solution here is deceptively simple: give those below a certain income threshold more money. A universal basic income, designed to improve healthcare outcomes and general wellbeing, would be an immediate improvement that delivers almost instant results. As we saw during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the federal government implemented a de-facto UBI in the form of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), direct cash payments work.
Creative adaptations of the UBI could also be explored in conjunction with the new primary care models described in another Idea in this theme. For example, some portion of the benefit could potentially be provided as a basket of credits toward a range of complementary and alternative health services and/or health-promoting activities – a sort of individual health spending account.
Questions about how big the benefits should be, how they should be designed, and how we ought to pay for them are important to explore and to answer. But we can’t ignore the fact that a Wellness UBI would immediately, and perhaps substantially, improve healthcare outcomes for thousands of people. And it’s easy to see how that could, in time, end up paying for itself.