Universal Basic Income

This has been covered already by a lot of people in a lot of places, so it’s not an idea of mine, just something I support. What I’m planning to do with this post is to try to best explain how much I know, along with my opinions, and attempt to address any potential arguments. As always with my blog posts (and posts anywhere, really), I prefer a decent debate over just throwing my views to the wind and get ‘likes’ or whatnot. I’d much rather be challenged as well as get people agreeing with me, rather than getting nowhere singing to the choir.

Outline of Universal Basic Income (UBI)

A completely unconditional and universal income paid to all citizens of a country (in my case, the UK). Millionaire? You can get it. Single parent? You can get it. Destitute? you can get it. Six months left to live? You can get it (for the next six months). I think I’ve covered that aspect now. The amount to be paid is primarily left to whoever ends up having to organise the scheme, so I really don’t see myself or any other bloggers or journalists coming up with the ultimate best figures. I think it’s really unwise to talk figures unless you have full access to information about every last penny that’s currently being spent and what could be made available for UBI. It’s a good thing that people do make these estimates, but I am not going to, because frankly I’m not the chancellor of the exchequer. One thing’s practically agreed on all posts I’ve read, though. There’s enough money, if you wrangle it right. Which begs explanation, so….

How UBI should be funded

If everyone’s getting this same basic amount (which is generally placed level with, or higher than, current benefits rates), people aren’t going to need to be on benefits. It’s also mostly unconditional, so gone will be the days of people claiming jobseekers allowance, housing benefit, tax credits, employment and support allowance, tax credits, council tax benefit… and so on, ad nauseum. These departments would be crushed, gone, sayonara. Not only would the costs involved in paying all these benefits to people be now free to apply to UBI, but also the costs of paperwork, admin, means testers etc as well as the big contracts with companies like Atos and G4S. This means there’s technically more money freed up to give to people by scrapping half the DWP than there is with it in place. Even pensions would come under UBI, so that’s the whole DWP reduced to a single, small department, with little admin overhead. It’s not enough, though. Money would have to come from other places, too. More on that in other sections.

Wages

One argument for UBI is actually higher wages. Where people would no longer have to work in order to survive, they’d be more free to be selective about where they work. This would mean businesses would need to be attractive to would-be employees and so would push up their wage offerings. I personally disagree. My reason is that, because people would already be able to live without having to work, this would take the onus of providing a living/minimum wage off the employer. Though I do understand the argument of a competitive higher wage, and I agree it’s a sound argument, I think it’s far more likely that employers would want to massively decrease wages. This would make it far more affordable to hire more people. Especially new businesses, who might struggle with providing the minimum wage as is. With this in mind, coupled with the lower pressure to work to feed oneself, I could see UBI being conducive to a huge rise in new businesses forming. More workers and more new businesses means more taxpayers and more tax paid, which in turn means more revenue which might go back toward UBI.

Education

Without the pressure to immediately work to survive, people would be more inclined to do other things. Studying, for example. Studying to get off the bottom and skill up for a well paying job. This would be potentially made more difficult by the fact that without benefits, there’s probably not going to be course fee concessions and student grants. However, who knows, maybe there will. One would hope so. But then again with sensible saving and a willingness to work for it (remember, people would be working for profit and advancement, not survival, so the luxuries of a good education wouldn’t be quite so distant), what would stop them from reaching that?

Menial Jobs

I’ve seen arguments that people who don’t have to work to survive won’t do menial low paid jobs like working in retail or cleaning toilets or flipping burgers. While there is some sense in this argument, it’s not without its flaws. Who would want to go round collecting bins once a week if they had a choice? While the answer isn’t ‘nobody’, for sure, it’s a given that such a job isn’t likely to be popular. However, who would seriously want to clean their room? Who would want to do dishes once a day? Everyone does that even without getting paid for it already. It stands to reason that the people who would go round collecting bins once a week would be the people who don’t want a pile of stinking bins outside their homes. Obviously not everyone is going to do it, but the crappy jobs are pretty necessary, and there’s always going to be more than a few people willing to do them, even if it means taking one day a week off from the high flying career in aerospace engineering they studied for and are loving. That’s if such jobs (the bin collection, not the engineering) aren’t rapidly filled by automation.

Charity and volunteering

In my last post, I outlined an idea I had for a voluntary scheme where jobseekers help  the council (a source of willing binmen!). I can’t help but think people would be more inclined to take the time out to volunteer if they had a UBI. Maybe it’s just me, though. However, I struggle to believe I’m the only jobseeker in the UK who loves to help other people any way he can. I also struggle to believe it of people far better off than me. As things are, I understand, though. Long work weeks on low income means little time or energy for more work. A UBI would allow people to take more control over how much paid work they do, because they no longer need to. Taking a couple of days off to hang out at Oxfam raising money for other countries’ poor would be a lot easier, because it would no longer mean choosing between that and next week’s dinner. Obviously it would still need to be cleared with the boss, but that’s not really the point.

Equality

Where it’s completely unconditional, a UBI would be equal to all. The injustice-based argument where the unemployed get something for doing nothing where hard workers don’t get the same would be completely null and void. The hard workers would get the same UBI, the millionaires would get the same UBI, the unemployed would get the same UBI. Everybody wins, and everybody loses (the latter because it would be funded by tax, and, contrary to popular belief, everybody pays tax).

I probably have a lot more to add, but I’ve run out of brain for now. Going to publish and probably edit in some more if I think of more.

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Workfare Alternative

I propose, as an alternative to workfare (non-voluntary voluntary work for people who don’t have volunteers on their regular staff. aka free labour), a council-assisted collaboration of jobseekers working to complete tasks that the council want done. For example, the jobseeker-led organisation (I’ll call it WorkShare for now) receives a direction from the council to upgrade an old playground in a park. WorkShare jobseekers collaborate to design a new playground, and submit several designs to the council. The council then choose one and work out the costs etc, and source up the materials needed, which they then give to WorkShare to install, along with any professional assistance (such as health and safety executives, people who carry the necessary qualifications to use the tools etc).

WorkShare jobseekers then set to work upgrading the playground. Internally, someone keeps track of who has been doing what, and the hours they’ve worked etc. After the work is completed, the council are politely asked if they would like to pay the jobseekers (on a pay-what-you-like/donation basis, rather than a like-for-like hourly rate). Jobseekers are not mandated to take part, and are not mandated to keep a predefined schedule, but are paid an amount based on how much they’ve contributed and how much was donated. Really, it’s mainly for the experience and getting back into a work routine (as Workfare is touted to be). As a secondary bonus to jobseekers, one day (minimum 5 hours) worked with WorkShare equals one week excused from the jobseeker’s agreement. Not so that people can slack off for a week if they’ve worked one day, I think people wouldn’t slack off. If they’re willing to go work for their benefits, it’s likely they’re already honouring their agreement anyway. However, it allows people to do the work in order to earn something, even if it’s not a wage, especially true if the council decide the amount they want to donate is zero.

The exemption from the jobseekers agreement doesn’t mean they don’t have to look for work, but mainly means they’re not going to be sanctioned or lose their benefit unless they come off JSA through finding work. 52 days of active WorkShare would mean secure JSA for a year (including the days worked, not starting after). Because really, they would have earned the money being productive for everyone around them, which means it’s no longer a free entitlement based on tireless job hunting, which is not productive.