The case for Basic Income

Replacing the widely-condemned Universal Credit and supporting the very poorest in our society: Bill Shutt provides a brief introduction to the key arguments in favour of the Green Party’s Universal Basic Income policy.

At an anti-austerity protest a placard reads '1 million using food banks'
At an anti-austerity protest a placard reads '1 million using food banks'

Image: Walt Jabsco / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Protesters at an anti-austerity march back in 2015

Bill Shutt

Most members of the Green Party are aware that Basic Income has been on our agenda for a long time. However, it has stubbornly remained only a long-term objective, despite relatively recent political developments that should compel all members to reconsider the claims of Basic Income with some urgency. The Tax and Fiscal Voting Paper passed at the recent Spring Conference does refer to the ‘gradual introduction’ of the Citizens’ Income.

Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) provides a definition of Basic Income as follows, which is not in dispute: ‘A periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means test or work requirement’. A majority of members at BIEN’s General Assembly in Seoul in 2016 ‘… agreed to support a Basic Income that is stable in size and frequency and high enough to be, in combination with other social services, part of a policy strategy to eliminate material poverty and enable the social and cultural participation of every individual.’

The Green Party’s Basic Income policy proposal compares closely with this, and it is clear that we ultimately aspire to develop the policy so that it will largely replace all other benefits now in force.

At the meeting of the Basic Income/Citizens’ Income Policy Working Group held at Spring Conference in Scarborough, three particular issues were stressed as the most important justifications for Basic Income.

1. Providing for the very poor

As I write this article I happen to be listening with half an ear to a harrowing account on Channel 4 News of the extreme poverty that exists in parts of Britain, leading to widespread hunger amongst children, with parents that have to go without food to leave sufficient for their children, many living in substandard housing combined with the threat of homelessness. The standard of living for these people is not rising; it is falling. Basic Income, in conjunction with substantial support in the matter of housing for the very poor, would transform their way of life, giving them a boost to their standard of living to a level which at present is barely imaginable.

2. Replacing the scourge of Universal Credit

Except in the case of relatively few individual beneficiaries (i.e. unemployed single persons or those who move in and out of work) Universal Credit has proved to be unworkable and regarded as unfixable by the National Audit Office. Furthermore, neither the government nor the main opposition parties in Parliament have yet offered an alternative and cannot offer one other than Basic Income. There were always going to be too many varied and changing circumstances to deal with.

3. Providing support in an anticipated era of much reduced paid employment

Advancing technology in the form of robots, artificial intelligence and every conceivable kind of digital device will inevitably diminish the opportunities for paid employment. This ought to be celebrated by those involved in tedious work or no work at all, who can look forward to a liberating culture that a Basic Income will support. Imagine a modest but secure allowance that gives you the freedom to initiate a new business, to care for need relatives or friends and to have the choice to undertake further study and education generally, training and many kinds of sport and leisure.

The cost of all this will be substantial but ought to be affordable as long as the Party takes effective measures in taxing corporations and the wealthy and in minimising the capacity of their professional advisers in evading taxes on their behalf. As a new much simplified benefits system, Basic Income will cost much less to administer.

There is evidence from trials that have taken place in Canada that support of this kind leads to improved health and less crime, which in itself will reduce costs further. Finally, Basic Income will have the merit of providing money in communities where it is really needed and will be spent, a factor that is likely to create largely wholesome economic activity.

Yet despite all these attractions, Basic Income is a difficult sell inside and outside the Party. We have very few active members in our Policy Working Group who concern themselves with policy development on a regular basis. We could very much do with help from any Party members with the expertise and time available for:

  • Designing and producing a leaflet to be issued by canvassers to the potential voter at the next General Election, which may not be far off; and
  • Offering advice on the thorny question as to whether or how pilots may be best introduced.

Bill Shutt, currently Co-Convenor of the Basic Income/Citizens' Income Policy Working Group, joined the Green Party about five years ago primarily because of its established interest in Basic Income. He is a retired architect who has had an abiding interest in politics for nearly forty years.

Anyone looking to offer their time or expertise on the points above should contact Bill on willfshutt@gmail.com.

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