Citizens Basic Income: why here, and why now?

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​Calls for a Citizens Basic Income are gaining ground - Dr Benjamin Simmons looks at why

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24th October 2017 by TFN Guest 3 Comments

When The Fairer Fife Commission released Fairness Matters in November of 2015 with its shock recommendation of a basic income pilot it started a chain reaction of conversations which led to the announcement last month of the Scottish Government’s decision to fund a feasibility study.

At the same time as the release of the Fife publication we were setting up Citizen’s Basic Income Network Scotland (which would be formally established in February 2016) with the intention of fighting an uphill battle to raise awareness of this simple idea which is too easily misunderstood.

Instead and to our surprise we have been not only pushing on open doors but have been inundated with queries from the media, public and policymakers.

A citizen’s basic income has long been a part of Green Party policy, and the SNP agreed to a motion supporting introducing basic income at their spring conference in 2016.

Dr Benjamin Simmons

Dr Benjamin Simmons

Think of it like a common resource to prevent poverty, much like the NHS is a common resource to prevent poor health

Fife Council inspired Glasgow, North Ayrshire, and Edinburgh City Council who collectively represent 1.6 million Scots to look at their own basic income pilot schemes.

All of a sudden basic income is everywhere you look. But why?

One answer is that we as a society have reached an unspoken agreement that the current social security system does not work.

Nowhere will you find a defender of the status quo as a precision tool honed by the finest minds of our generation, although opinion is not united on whether the current system is too generous or too miserly.

What separates basic income from other proposals for raising minimum living standards is that it is not targeted at a specific group of individuals, but is instead provided for everyone. Think of it like a common resource to prevent poverty, much like the NHS is a common resource to prevent poor health. The rich and poor are entitled alike.

This crucial difference is what I think makes a citizen’s basic income so compelling right now.

By disconnecting social security from your in-work status you free people up from being full-time employees of the job centre, diligently spending 35 hours a week refreshing the same page of unsuitable or absent jobs.

Instead you allow people to seek temporary paid work without the sanction of lost benefits, to be recognised financially for the crucial unpaid work carried out as carers or volunteers, and to be afforded the dignity of a life without poverty.

The advent of artificial intelligence and advanced automation is easy to dismiss as Malthusian scaremongering but the reality for many of us is that thinking will soon be done more cheaply in a digital elsewhere in the same way that manufacturing moved where labour is cheaper.

You may think that you are irreplaceable, or that no machine could do your job as well as you do, but next time you’re stuck speaking to a telephone menu ask yourself how much the private sector values perfect when there is a much cheaper good enough.

As the likelihood of eventually needing to use the safety net of social security increases for all of us, a basic income lifejacket begins to make much more sense than the current leaky waterwing weakly under-armed towards those that have obediently followed the drowning guidelines.

If you would like to read more about what a costed basic income scheme could look like for Scotland, Annie Miller’s recent book A Basic Income Handbook is now available. 

If you would like to support Citizen’s Basic Income Network Scotland as a volunteer or as an advocate please get in touch via [email protected]

Dr Benjamin Simmons is a basic income activist and trustee of Citizen's Basic Income Network Scotland.

24th October 2017 by Rose Burn

I will read the suggested book with interest. We should not forget though that a basic income of say £10,000 a year, just below the income tax allowance, would cost over £40 billion a year, more than the total annual Scottish government budget. Quite a shake up for the tax and benefits system!

31st October 2017 by George Dunbar

I feel basic income is a sensible option but fear the inevitable politicization of it with competing political parties promising to either raise or tax or slash basic income if the get your vote! If this is ever to be a reality, it needs to be written into a constitution which cannot be tampered with and clear unalterable rules created for it.

2nd November 2017 by lok yue

Rose burn has it right: its simply too expensive. To fund such a system will require massive tax increases and incidentally why should people have the dual right of receiving free money and opting not to work if they so wish. The author suggests the NHS is a model for basic income. If so, it and the model are flawed and hopelessly and expensively inefficient