by Kam Sandhu – @KamBass
The Universal Basic Income (or Basic Income, or Unconditional Basic Income) is a great way of debasing some of the pressures on inequality that are repeatedly exploited in a wayward economy, and will be a positive step forward in the redistribution of wealth which is the greatest divide of our times.
When we mentioned the UBI before a commentator took great offence that people should receive something for nothing, at the idea that there is this much money for people and a worry that we will descend into a feckless, workshy populus. Such faith.
These comments speak highly of the fear we have come to feel of our own capability and independence in a world where we are barraged with the constant alienation and villification of each other, the idea that everyone is out to get what’s yours, where the economy isn’t so much controlled by us as ‘happens to us’, where the fetishisation of work has penetrated consciences as a virtue in and of itself no matter how low the pay, and the idea that there must be this degree of suffering in falling working conditions and treatment as it is the crappy badge of honour we must all share to keep this tragic system going.
It is a fear of a world where people might decide more for themselves, than be governed. It is a fear that if we don’t continue doing as we’re told we might do something crazy, like live a more fulfilling life. This system is one that makes us think that taking steps to give ourselves more time and resources to live as we please is ‘radical’ and somehow undeserved, yet we bear witness to the growing army of food bank users, growing inequality, a growing number of people in poverty – many of these in work, growing debt and growing mental health issues. What system of work is being protected here exactly?
So to alay some of these fears that probably cross all of our minds in some way when the notion of the Universal Basic Income comes up, this article will walk us through the concept.
How much and from where?
The Swiss surfaced the idea of the Universal Basic Income a few months back with a referendum and a suggested allowance of £1750 a month. This is quite a lot, and while the suggestions for UK rates are lower, the Swiss are an example of what might be achieved.
Natalie Bennett, Green Party leader, backs the idea of the Universal Basic Income and has noted that around £7000 a year could be allocated to every UK citizen through the removal of the over-complicated benefits system and staff. The Citizens Income Trust estimate that £10,000 for everyone could be achieved through these measures and adjustments elsewhere.
The idea of getting money for nothing
George Osbourne has repeatedly been banging the drum to end the ‘something for nothing’ culture, as if it were a notion no sane human being would walk within yards of, temporarily forgetting his birthplace got him something for nothing, the interest on the bank accounts of those with money get them something for nothing, the housing crisis the same Chancellor is driving is giving homeowners something for nothing as house prices increase far beyond comprehension and the means of everyday people, and of course, a bailout with no conditions for banks is indeed, a whole lotta something for less than nothing, a deficit in fact.
Getting ‘something for nothing’ is common in our economy, but it seems it is only distasteful and linked to ‘fecklessness’ when the lower classes benefit from it.
We are also kidding ourselves with the idea that this economy fairly gives someone what they are owed. And I say this while there are hundreds of thousands of food bank users who are in work, while 93% of new housing benefit claimants are in work, while nurses are seeing blocks to pay rises of even 1% while bankers pay themselves millions in bonuses for abject failures. We hear time and time again about abolishing the something for nothing culture, and yet hardly a peep that there are plenty out there getting ‘nothing for something.’
And thus, in a such a clearly unequal and unforgiving economy, shouldn’t we be worrying less about getting something for nothing and concentrate more on giving everyone some basic subsistence to live?
Perhaps we need to focus on why we think giving everybody some money to live seems a reckless idea. Could it be to do with the blanket coverage of benefit cheats, immigrants, the unemployed, the disabled and the young who have taken centre stage in the austerity villification games. These people, with nothing, are bleeding the system dry. But we never hear, during this harsh austerity when ‘every penny counts’, that the FAILED (thankfully) student loan-book sell off cost £12bn which could have paid each student £5100, or that the work programme is costing us tens of thousands of pounds per person in work, or that the the Universal Credit system has wasted so much money that IDS uses even more of our money to fight the case for releasing the failures of his almighty UC in a report. We’re paying to not be told the truth. We’re paying for crooked ministers to cover their arses. So why on Earth is it radical to take some of this money back into our own hands?
Our system is maintaining and growing the insane Wealth Gap…
We can’t rely on this broken economy, engineered so well that 99% of us are fighting over 6% of the world’s wealth, to suddenly choke out some better results. But in agreeing that every person deserves the amenities to live, we can move towards better wealth distribution and equality.
UBI is a real step towards equality, demolishing the too handy and too oft turned to political tactic of scapegoating. Like the lie that if repeated comes to be believed, the government have repeatedly set about filling the public airwaves and newspapers with blame on the country’s poorest for a situation caused by the country’s richest. The hardest hit are always the already hardest hit. Single mothers, the disabled, the young, the unemployed, immigrants. All of these people are the ones who then have to jump through the expensive and bureaucratic hoops because their vilification in the media and on the street is not enough. I wonder what the papers will fill their pages with if the constant hate-spew upon the money these groups receive were no longer applicable. The UBI will at least restore some dignity for those the government have preyed on throughout austerity, to make their claims more difficult and longer to process, to prod and mock them for being ill, just to prise some more money, time and self-worth from the most in need.
The Universal Basic Income is a policy which moves us forward with the technological advances taking place. Checkouts are being replaced up and down the country, removing jobs from people who, in our current system, are then punished for not having a job. The takeover of technology is going to become more commonplace, and we need to move with it. Technological advances can, will and should free us from the tedious and mundane.
Yes, people’s attitudes to work may change, but the UK needs more flexibility as we are currently seeing one section of society work so much they are driven to poor health, and another section who cannot find work and are driven to poverty. John Ashton, a leading UK scientist remarked on this earlier last month:
“When you look at the way we lead our lives, the stress that people are under, the pressure on time and sickness absence, [work-related] mental health is clearly a major issue. We should be moving towards a four-day week because the problem we have in the world of work is you’ve got a proportion of the population who are working too hard and a proportion that haven’t got jobs”, Ashton said.
“We’ve got a maldistribution of work. The lunch-hour has gone; people just have a sandwich at their desk and carry on working,” added the leader of the UK’s 3,300 public-health experts working in the NHS, local government and academia.”
Perhaps a deeper focus on the jobs we have will happen. But is this not what we need? We have all bore witness to the things a profit motive drives alone. It is the reason Cameron and predecessors like to arm the conflicts around the world. It is the reason our care industries have become so neglected, while we instead hold up occupations such as bankers and stock market brokers as achievements and success with more than ample payment and respect despite the amassing of money and risk-taking providing no social good.
Also, how many call centres do we need? How many jobs are aimed at catching us out, or annoying us, in the hope that because of our busy lives we will just say yes to be done with it? How many of these would we honestly miss?
The UBI won’t remove any healthy competition but it will redress some balance of profit with human need and quality of life.
“If people are working because the economic system forces them to, and pays them below what they feel they deserve but they are forced to accept it to even barely scrape by, then our economic system isn’t functioning for the population, it’s functioning for itself. Basic Income is an economic systemic equaliser.”
If the UBI were to come into being, there would need to be some work done and decisions made around some housing benefit claims which the proposed UBI amount may not cover. But again, the escalating housing and rent prices are something that need tackling, as our current government have simply resolved to do nothing about the rising prices, instead punishing claimants by capping their housing benefit which could push them into arrears. We have spoken before about why the government doesn’t want to solve the housing crisis or help control prices as it contributes to growth, but housing policies need to be a huge part of any future plan for Britain, so we welcome some focus on the need to provide affordable housing and rents.
The other issue would be any backlash formed from granting the UBI to the rich too. Personally, I say, they would have got it anyway, through tax breaks or some other scheme, so if the majority are finally getting something out of this, and it is truly universal and unconditional, then that is positive.
It’s time we stopped trying to diminish the true qualities of life – time, friends, family, freedom, creativity. The books we want to read, the people we want to see, the new advances and ideas that could propel us even further forward in our evolution have no time live in the minds of those spending every waking moment trying to scrape by.
The government aren’t going to encourage these things. But when was the last time you heard them say they were doing something for your personal freedom? To give you more time to be, well, a human being and not a workhorse. When did you last hear Cameron or Clegg speak about your quality of life as they do about our need to be hardworking citizens in a system of low pay?
That’s why it’s up to us to make the UBI a demand.
Read the others in this series: