The start of 2014 has been marked by the announcement of yet another assault on Welfare spending – a planned £12bn in cuts targeting the very poorest. The ground for this has been laid by a relentless campaign to distinguish between ‘them’ – the people on benefits, and ‘us’ – the people who pay taxes. This is illustrated clearly by Channel 4’s divisive Benefits Street. It’s clear that tinkering around the edges, promising to reverse one cut or another, is not going to cut the mustard. We need a wholly new approach – a basic income for every adult.
The idea of a basic income is not new – some version of it has been advocated by thinkers as diverse as Martin Luther King, Bertrand Russell and Milton Friedman, and has proponents from across the political spectrum, from Socialists to Free Marketeers. Versions of it have been implemented in Alaska, Iran and Brazil, with recent trials in villages in India and Namibia. The idea is simple – every adult receives an equal amount each month, tax-free, regardless of income or circumstances. Unlike benefits, which are withdrawn as you earn more, creating a ‘benefits trap’ where accepting a job can leave you worse off, the basic income would be guaranteed, making sure work always pays. There are a host of other advantages: currently unpaid work such as bringing up children and looking after elderly relatives would be financially recognised by society. Part-time work would be more viable, for those that want a little more time to study, pursue new interests, or spend more time with their children. Students would have less debt, people would be able to refuse unpleasant jobs (or demand a higher wage for them) and vulnerable people would no longer be stigmatised as ‘benefit claimants’. A basic income would also fund a whole range of socially beneficial activities that are not currently rewarded such as voluntary work and local community activism. Continue reading