An increasing number of people are talking about an unconditional basic income, as a pragmatic method of eliminating poverty and granting workers more freedom to be flexible – and to challenge bad employment practices.
Here are some key arguments in favour of a basic income from a “left” position.
Various parts of the world are experimenting or considering experimenting with this approach or at least near as damn it.
I’m not interested in addressing the view from some that UBI or variations of the same will lead to a laziness pandemic.
I’m more interested in how this rubs up against on the one hand the old postwar social democratic ideal of universalism and the more recent moves to more reciprocal (defined contribution) welfare systems and the increased use of means testing.
I’m sceptical of what my friends in the UK Basic Income Trade Unionists Facebook group seem to see as a primary driver towards UBI being robots taking over our jobs, the simple fact is that for most jobs for the foreseeable future – it’s cheaper and easier to use humans, and the increased use of robots as tools to supplement human labour; should if the labour force is strong enough enable it to make an argument that increased robotics means workers become more skilled, not less. And if the labour force is not strong enough, then how is it going to be strong enough to organise for a UBI that works for us?
No the strongest argument at the moment for UBI in the UK must be that it is cheaper than the current welfare system. And that means we need to look at what welfare spending is?
Do we sweep away unemployment benefit, tax credits, child allowance, housing benefit? pensions? What about DLA? Personal budgets? ESA? What about the social care budget? Free child care? Do we shift the cost to individuals and say “pay for it from your UBI”? Why not do the same for the NHS? Hello private health insurance.
Sure we’ll slash bureaucracy to pay for it – well fine, but that’s thousands of unionised; relatively well paid public service jobs you’re talking about.
What affect would it have on the living wage campaign (the real one)? After all why do we need a living wage if everyone is getting an amount to cover basic living costs?
Is there a danger that shifting to a UBI model in the current economic and political climate could lead to a removal of responsibility from business and government to pay their way?
I suspect that some would see it as an opportunity to do just that. But then again, if we’re increasing taxation in some places to help pay for it, then does it matter?
In the UK the debate around UBI is only just beginning and it’s important that those of us who want to see people build power in the community and workplace, don’t allow UBI to become a trojan horse to undermine our power.