The questions you should ask anyone trying to sell Universal Basic Income

UBI

By Lisa Muggeridge

Universal Basic Income is the panacea on everyone’s lips.

A system only works as long as the context in which it was devised doesn’t change – and the British welfare system has had to deal with huge changes in context.

Built around a nuclear family model – male breadwinner, female unpaid carer – our welfare system has had to adapt to the most significant reorganisation of family relations in history: gender equality, the care economy, disability rights, the housing boom created by a debt-based economy, an ageing population.

The panicked responses of governments to these changes have resulted in some of the most vicious welfare reforms in history. These are generating crises including the undeliverable Universal Credit. Nobody really knows what to do right now. So the Left are using Universal Basic Income (UBI) as a euphemism for their lack of understanding of welfare, the labour market, and the economy.

Here are some questions to ask the mostly white,  male, elite-educated, politically connected left-wingers trying to sell you UBI:

  1. Housing Benefit

This ties benefits to rents in your local area, not nationally. It is tied to the local housing market and responds to it. And even though the housing market has malfunctioned and benefits have been slashed, the Housing Benefit system is still more or less holding together after 70 years, precisely because it can respond to the local housing market and is calculated according to changing local rents. How will a nationally set UBI do this? Or will another benefit system be required for housing costs? The Housing Benefit system acts as an early warning of an overheating housing market; how will UBI replicate this?

  1. Motherhood pay

The motherhood pay penalty is linked to the labour market and changes constantly. Our benefits system responds to this by calculating tax credits according to wages, sometimes with Housing Benefit on top. This is directly linked to a changing economy. How will your UBI model do this?

  1. Childcare

The UK has no state-provided childcare, and our childcare is the most expensive in Europe. Rates can vary according to the town and provider, from a few pounds a day for after school clubs, to £700-£800 a month per child for private day nurseries. When the Tories cut childcare allowances to 70 percent of childcare costs, it pushed thousands of women out of work. How will UBI respond to childcare that is provided by a variable market?

  1. Disability

The costs of disability are not related to employment; they are about how much additional money you need to be mobile and to buy things that allow you to participate in the world. How will UBI respond to this? Will there be an additional benefit system?

  1. Data

While mainstream welfare literature has focused on “labour market activation” – getting people into work – our benefits system provides information about the extent of inequality which corresponds to race, gender and disability faultlines. To get out of the current crises we will need to use this information. How will UBI record this data if it is paid equally to everyone?

  1. Unemployment

We are supposed to use unemployment data to measure unemployment. The willingness of people to sign on once a fortnight allowed the most accurate measure of unemployment available. This tool has been destroyed by conditionality, but it needs to be restored. How will UBI measure unemployment?

  1. Gender and care roles

Caring functions used to be confined to the private family unit, but these days women are independent economic actors so a care economy has emerged to fill that gap. In a country with falling birth rates and an aged and rapidly ageing population, how do you propose this work will be done? How does a care economy that is guaranteed to expand constitute a “post-work world”? Is the caring economy not part of the post work world, or will gender equality just be rolled back with women expected to perform these tasks unpaid?

  1. Care workers

Care work is usually performed by low-paid women who have to outsource their own care responsibilities to do this. See question about childcare.

  1. Inequality

When you have your two-tier benefits system with UBI costing a fortune and the rest of us still needing top-ups for housing and care, how do you propose to solve the issue of inequality and unequal political voices? The left wing media is representative of the middle classes who will receive UBI and have the political clout to fight for UBI at the expense of those on the bottom layer of the two-tier benefits system. Who will lose? The people who already have no political voice, because of a left wing media culture rooted in elite universities. How do you ensure your two-tier benefits system does not end with those on the bottom tier being abused the way the “undeserving” claimants of Beveridge’s system were abused?

  1. Cost

How do you propose to pay for UBI when we need to keep the above top-ups? What services will have to be dissolved to pay for it? Will it be the structurally invisible services of care, child protection and benefits addressing inequality, which bore the brunt of austerity?

  1. Payment levels

How will you be deciding the level that UBI is set at? What measure are you using to decide how much is enough to live on? Do you know anyone who can live on the £100 a week or £74 a week suggested so far? Because even people on the lowest single person’s rate of JSA need housing benefit to live independently. How are you finding a figure that releases 64 million people from the need to work when the median wage is £27k a year? Who will live on this £100 a week, is it just the poorest? Could you live on £100 a week?

  1. Financial instability

We currently have issues with financial instability, and our benefits system will prove to be a key institution that stabilises our economy. It fulfils this function because it moves naturally to compensate for the fluctuations of the market economy; the ceiling of any cash transfer welfare system automatically reflects the lowest living wage, as seen by the Housing Benefit bill (see question one). How will UBI perform this function?

  1. Employer subsidy

Tax credits are the only measurable subsidy received by employers who pay no tax. Measurement of this is going to be quite important if we cant tax capiatl because revenue raising. How will UBI do this?

  1. State control

How would you prevent the level of state control that UBI would entail being used to abuse people? It took 70 years for social security to mutate into workfare schemes and abuse those supposedly protected by equality legislation. You are saying that 64 million people should be handed over to state control. How would you prevent state abuse of power when the entire population’s personal finances are reliant on the state?

  1. Self employment

We have more and more self employed people, many of them with children. They currently can claim tax credits, the amount of which changes in response to fluctuating earnings. How does a fixed rate UBI address this?

  1. And finally…

If you need to keep or create additional benefits to meet the above needs – childcare, disability, housing, self employment etc – what specific problem in the UK benefits system does UBI actually solve?

If someone is promoting UBI, they are telling you they don’t understand welfare, they don’t know any poor people, and they will never have to survive on it. It is a regressive transfer of money from the poorest to the middle classes, from women to men, from those suffering race inequality to white people, from those with disabilities to the able-bodied.

Our current benefits system held out for 70 years before the context changed significantly enough around it that we need to replace it. How long will UBI last and how will it respond to changing economic and social circumstances that cannot be predicted? How long before a right wing think tank uses these ideas to liquidate our welfare state for good?

It doesn’t cost money to stop using our benefits system to abuse people; in fact, it saves money. It doesn’t cost money to simplify our benefits system; again, it saves money. Only by assessing how the social and economic context changed during the lifetime of our benefits system can you assess what is wrong with it and how to fix it. UBI is a way to avoid doing that. It is dangerous nonsense that would be paid for by generations of people unconnected to the Left for the next 70 years.

By the second question on the list above, the answer will be that we will have two benefits systems. All that went wrong with our current system was that it was built around unemployed men and then turned out not to be about unemployment at all. For 70 years those on the bottom tier were abused as “undeserving”.

Supporters of UBI, in effect, want to see this abuse recreated.

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33 thoughts on “The questions you should ask anyone trying to sell Universal Basic Income

  1. Fair questions, Lisa – and if I weren’t working with claimants and had been a claimant myself, and self-employed – and have been working with women facing domestic violence – I might agree with you.

    The main thing you’re ignoring about UBI, even at the low rates proposed by the RSA and CIT, is that it will be paid to each individual – so women will get money of their own. And again even at low rates, the CIT plan pays each child half, which would be a significant up-rating of Child Benefit. Although atm women get child tax credit, this is soon to be rolled into UC and all (including the HB element) paid to the ‘head of household’ – by default the man if there’s one around. Women will have to make a special rerpresentation to get any UC paid directly to them. UC is a prescription for domestic abuse which so far seems to have gone unnoticed by most women’s groups.

    In the pilot studies, both those of the 1970s in the US and Canada and more recently in India (with a tiny UBI it must be said) domestic abuse went down, the divorce rate went up (since women didn’t have to stay with abusive or even just boring partners) and indicators of inequality, like how much food girls were given, and how much women participated in community life outside their families, moved towards more equality. A UBI would support those who want to look after their own friends and family.

    As far as people with disabilities are concerned, most I know (and I work mainly with people dealing with ESA and PIP) would welcome even a lower amount of money if it were not tied to the stress of endless assessments they are put through at the moment, which is making people even more ill, and causing many to withdraw almost entirely from society. But even with a higher UBI, some people’s needs will have to be met separately, whether that’s with payments and/or services. Again in the Indian pilot study people with disabilities participated more in family and community life.

    Housing costs are the biggest problem with the current plans for UBI. Although all keep HB in place, yes it will still mean meanstesting for some, particularly single people and single parents. I don’t see HB’s importance as a bellweather for housing costs – there are other measures, and in fact given that many scrape by without claiming HB already even if they would be eligible for it. On the other hand UBI could well help people who do not want to move to the employment centres to build a life in cheaper places, which in turn could have a very beneficial effect on rents in places like London.

    Which is another thing you’re ignoring about our current system as it relates to people on low income – the high rates of non-uptake of benefits people are eligible for. This was a problem even before the current changes, and is getting worse as people do anything to avoid the virtual workhouse benefits have become. So as far as JSA or other benefits supplying much useful information about gender, disability, or race (?) inequalities – to say nothing of being a real indicator of the amount of unemployment – there are many economists who would dispute this absolutely. Most use the census for these, for even with the flaws in that it is a much more reliable indicator.

    As far as tax credits goes, I am previous claimant before my child reached 18, and now someone who doesn’t, because the £25-odd a week it might get me is not worth the hassle of proving to HMRC how many hours I work or the worry at the end of the year about whether I might have to pay something back. And now of course self-employed people not earning the equivalent of minimum wage for 40 hours a week are also getting hassled in the same way as people on JSA, and this is set to get far worse under UC. Under UC of course there will also be the hassle of reporting income and expenses every month, and being assessed on that, regardless of having to live sometimes on larger payments over several months.

    Plus if you’re working for less than the hours required to claim TC, or are doing something which is hard to prove the hours, no matter how much you might need it, you can’t claim. I and many other SE people would far prefer the security with UBI of knowing exactly how much will be coming in regularly, as well as the knowledge that if I earn a bit more than the cut-off, I will not have to pay most of it back at the end of the year.

    Services, especially health, are groaning not only because of the cuts but also because of ever-higher demand – much of it people suffering the long-term diseases compounded by stress. There is some evidence from the pilots that these are much reduced by UBI, which some have argued could be the saving of our services.

    Finally, you’re not appreciating the real break with incomes having to come from a job which UBI represents, even at a small rate. It is this which is at the root of much inequality, especially since there is an inverse relationship between how socially useful most jobs are and the income which can be gained by them. I don’t have time to go into this now, and a couple other issues you raised like care (although it is carers both paid and unpaid who often immediately like UBI) and government control through UBI…

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  2. Am not ignoring it and you are absolutely wrong and your experience working with benefits claimants doesnt make you right. It is a regressive transfer of money away from them with the primary beneficiaries being people who dont need money. And you dont need to give away that money and take it from the poorest to remove the fdamaging parts of this system by a long shot.

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  3. Existing benefit claimants canno be the main beneficiaries of UBI. People who do not claim benefits are and existing benefit claimants LOSE from it., In every way. Not only that but recognition that benefit spending is structural inequality i sno small potatoes and removes labour market activation from the benefits system completely while recognising how spending is shaped by wider economic activity. You are so wrong.

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  4. Plus adding £100/week to everyone’s income will likely raise chargeable rents and house prices, allowing people with additional income to accumulate surplus money, while the poorest hand that £100/week straight over to landlords.

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  5. It’s a pity these weren’t posed simply as open questions – and many of them are the right questions- as opposed to an attack on UBI because actually UBI is far more supportive of people than the current system in terms of pretty much every question proposed above.

    Cityeyrie has covered most of the points but there’s one I want to pick up. The current system is one of the most the most intrusive systems it’s possible to construct – and it’s getting worse (see in-work conditionality and self-employed having to effectively sign on if they have low earnings). The most powerful argument in favour of basic income is precisely the fact that it helps free people from enormous state intrusion. Another example, people who have caring responsibilities would no longer need to justify themselves to the state under UBI.

    You’ve posed a number of detailed challenges that are fair enough – eg disability, housing that do need further refinement (a UBI simply can’t meet all needs and, in fairness, there are very few advocates who claim it could- I covered all this in the RSA paper and elsewhere). However, in terms of the general concerns you have about freedom, equality, justice I hope you take another look at UBI and keep your mind open.

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    1. If low-paid single parents are going to need additions to UBI – inc HB, what is to stop a govt imposing the same conditionality they are imposing in the current system. UBI only seems to abolish conditionality for those who don’t really need the money in the first place. Surely there will be sanctions on the low-paid while middle class sanctimoniously stuff away the money they ‘deserve’.

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      1. Also. There is no reason why the sanctions and conditionality have to be the way they are in the current system. It’s a political choice. So you don’t need UBI in order to remove some of the worst aspects.

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  6. Am sorry Anthony but its not. At all., ‘Disability, housing, gender’ etc ‘need further refinement- not good enough, Nt by a long shot. Not only does that indicate that you have not assessed how these problems developed, and tracing the development of our benefits system around these inequality faultlines would do you a lot of good, but its actually not good enough to say that the bulk of our benefits system is an issue that needs ‘further refinement’, Applying the equalityacts for the first time to welfare systems doesnt cost anything. It has never been done because of market driven conceptions of equality bound to labour market participation that mainstream welfare literature has followed. I would suggest reading papers on the economics of care, the gendered welfare state and Hyman Minsky and coming back. Its very simple to fix our welfare system and does not require a regressive transfer of moneys from those on the faultlines of strutcural inequality to those suffering none, and even if all this was not the case. Deliberately designing a system that CANNOT respond to the economy is lunacy and has about five years in it and completely ignores the dynamics of inequality which means the poorest would pay. Its just not good enough to say ‘further refinement is necessary;’. The problems in our welfare system could be tracked for the last 6 years(I did), go right to the roots of its conception and development and tanoter two tier benefits system wont fix them.

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  7. The problems in our benefits system need to be fixed NOW and are clearly identifiable and do not require a massive investment or transfer of money to the middle classes to fix. People died in the last 6 years, that can never happen again.

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  8. Dd you know that we could charge employers who pay no tax for the number of tax credit claimants they employ? We could charge them for subsidising their workforce even if we cant tax them? We need the benefits system to do more than give a subsistence income. We need a stabilising institution, that bridges and protects from inequality and abuse on basis of it, that we can use to revenue raise if necessary. We can have all that for a lot less than the cost of creating a two tier system which gives some people a subsistence and some people pocket money

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  9. In the 80s there was a scheme for unemployed where you could set up a business and get, I think, £40 a week for a year. You didn’t need to sign on. And you only had to produce basic bookeeping that was easy enough to fake. I guess it worked a bit like UBI. No conditionality, minimal checks. Worked for the Thatcher govt that was only interested in reducing headline figures.

    Anyway, it was a great scheme for young people – especially young men with minimal outgoings – who just pocketed the cash and occasionally printed up some fake invoices.

    I had a friend who lived in France for 8 months living in a hostel, learning French, and pretending to write a novel. Another friend would take the government money out of his account and transfer it to a bank in France. It was great fun, but I’m not sure it was cost effective. It made no difference to his future career, but it was a nice gap year. I wonder if he’d have lived in France for years on UBI.

    So, if it works like that scheme did, it will be a wonderful chance for young men to take the ‘Grand Tour’, meanwhile a single mother would struggle to look after a family on it. Or maybe she’d get extra benefit, but she’d have conditions – like not living in France.

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    1. Lots of bands did it, and not all of them were middle class. In fact, the early 80s was arguably the last great era of working class bands, in no small part because of the ESA and the relative generosity of unemployment benefit and social security. The drift towards a middle class dominated music industry since the 90s correlates with an increasingly parsimonious and coercive benefits system.

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    2. @Alison: I know many working class people who successfully set themselves up in business with Enterprise Allowance in the 1980s, especially in creative work they would not have had the chance to do otherwise. Just because it was abused by a few does not mean it did not do good for many. And if the last 5 years of welfare reforms have taught us nothing else, you can’t design a social policy around stopping a minority from abusing it without badly affecting everyone else.

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  10. Part of the problem here is the homogenity of the left, as white and male. ‘Freedom from work’. No freedom from work if you have kids and in those cases freedom from abusive family units and ability to suvrive is important. Its so dominated by these young men who think its just a thing to stamp their mark on before they get bored and move onto the next thing. Whats being suggested here is the fundamental reshaping of society by people who cant see it. Beveridge was obsessed with simple cases. Like Universal credit can start for simple cases. Dependents, inequality, dual existence in market economy and with caring labour and a life shaped by inequality arent simple. But its like explaining the moon to these people. And because they dont know the society they shape, they dont even consider the relationship with other institutions, why should they? Its just a passing buzzword., No more important than welfare to cameron and co.

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  11. Yeah, Lisa’s questions have largely been answered by the Green Party’s proposals on UBI (Citizen’s Income), but she refuses to properly read them and/or accept them (I know from a previous argument), so here I go.

    Housing Benefit:

    A UBI in the UK will not replace HB. The only way that UBI could replace HB would be with radical changes to how much has to be paid in rent to landlords, i.e. rent controls. This may not even be feasible (in a practical sense, at least) so existing proposals for UBI intend to maintain HB.

    The HB system, as was noted, isn’t really broken, but is problematic partly due to the level of variance across the country. There would need to be separate measures as well as UBI to address this, such as rent caps and a replacement of council tax with a land value tax – which are by definition, separate, but also not necessary for the implementation of a UBI.

    Motherhood pay & childcare.

    The Greens propose that all individuals get a basic income, with a lesser figure for children and more for pensioners, which all would be entitled to from birth (there are other conditions for immigrants and emigrants). A single parent would get a supplementary payment. Their proposals would replace & significantly improve upon existing child benefit payments. Childcare related tax credits would be unnecessary as The Greens propose to have free childcare provision. Childcare is therefore (correctly) separated out from UBI. It is not a ‘universal’ issue.

    Disability

    Disability payments under the existing system are complicated due to integration into various benefits. The Greens acknowledge that there are complexities that may require special measures, e.g. payments for carers, but commit to at least maintaining the £30 p/w extra, that the Tories have just removed for people, e.g. certified by their GP as not fit to work. In short, there will be supplemental payments to a UBI for the disabled. Generally this has been costed and any special cases are unlikely to be significant to the overall cost.

    Data

    Just because the current system enables this doesn’t mean it should be something connected with UBI. Your issue of data collection for the stated purpose is frankly minor in the grand scheme of UBI, and really should be considered a separate issue. Personally, I don’t see any point in getting bogged down in minutia about a side-issue that isn’t really anything to do with UBI. This is a matter that can be addressed as and when the time comes. Data analysis is really the domain of the Office for National Statistics – so it is their problem to solve and should have no bearing on whether UBI is implemented or not.

    Unemployment

    UBI will be given to everyone regardless of employment status, therefore the link to employment status will be broken.

    You are, again, linking a matter that isn’t really anything to do with UBI, because it is part of the current benefits system – as you perceive it.

    It is statistical collection and analysis. If the old ways of collecting data disappear, then those who want it will just have to find another way of getting it – and perhaps subtracting the number of people in work from the total population would be a start – but as this link with unemployment is to be broken, there would be less reason to acquire the data, Would it even be needed anymore?

    Again, I don’t see the issue of data collection for analysis as at all relevant to UBI. It’s an ONS problem.

    Gender and care roles/Care workers

    You ask, ” In a country with falling birth rates and an aged and rapidly ageing population, how do you propose this work will be done?”.

    I don’t recall Iain Duncan Smith having to answer any questions about how the work of looking after the old & infirm, or what gender does what, when he introduced Universal Credit, so why are you asking this about the introduction of a UBI?

    Seriously, what has that got to do with UBI? Why do you think it does have anything to do with UBI?

    This question has no relevance to implementing UBI. Do you actually understand UBI?

    UBI is about giving people a basic income. Everyone. It will replace parts of the existing benefits system, not the entirety of it. You are making like-for-like comparisons that will have no place in a UBI world.

    There are almost nine million people classified as economically inactive, and roughly a quarter of those are carers of some kind:

    “2 million women and 230k men were not in the labour force due to looking after family or home” – Richard Clegg, ONS, 17 February 2016.

    All these “economically inactive” people would get UBI, instead of nothing/next to nothing. UBI will obviously make life easier for those people who are ‘caring for no pay’ – regardless of gender.

    Care issues are care issues, not UBI issues. Aside from anything else, Care isn’t a ‘universal’ matter that applies to everyone – and The Greens separate out care and childcare (as should be the case) from being part of UBI, offering free childcare provision, as a separate matter.

    Your question is therefore irrelevant to implementing UBI.

    Inequality

    Everyone gets UBI. As far as UBI goes, there is no equality issue.

    Your particular questions about inequality are challenges for any and every system to overcome, and are matters for the planning/implementation stage, which we are far from, but again, you link UBI with issues beyond its scope, and would apply in any case, so they are not issues directly to do with whether we should choose to have UBI or not, but really are to do with how well it is implemented.

    Your concern is therefore one of mechanics, which at this stage, no one can really address; just bear in mind.

    Like any system, if you do it badly, you will have substantial issues; do it well and you won’t.

    Cost

    The Greens have specifically costed UBI for the UK in their consultation paper of April 2015. https://policy.greenparty.org.uk/assets/files/Policy%20files/Basic%20Income%20Consultation%20Paper.pdf

    “35. Thus, on costing the scheme, the broad conclusion might be summarised
    as follows:
    – a Basic Income for 2015–16 at JSA level for working-age people (£80
    pw),
    – Child Benefits more than doubled (to £50 pw),
    – an £80 pw supplement for single parents,
    – pensioners receiving £180 pw for a single pensioner and £310 pw for a
    couple, both a little above the official poverty line,
    – with provision for extra transitional disability payments and an
    emergency Basic Income payment scheme
    can be paid for by
    – abolishing all the existing benefits, including tax credits, other than
    Housing Benefit and certain other working-age benefits, some
    pensioner concessions and disability benefits,
    – abolishing the income tax personal allowance and the primary and
    secondary thresholds on National Insurance contributions,
    – removing almost half the tax and National Insurance incentives for
    private pension contributions.”

    Reform Scotland has produced its own report at https://reformscotland.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/The-Basic-Income-Guarantee-1.pdf.

    Broadly speaking, the cost of a UBI could be met in full, depending on the level it is set at, but would be at least slightly more than JSA/UC. With additional changes that could be implemented to the tax system, such as a land value tax, there could be a significant positive impact to the levels of UBI.

    The UBI itself will cycle money upwards, as those at the bottom will be spending more, which is the real impetus needed for job creation, which creates paid work opportunities.

    UBI can also be expected to have fringe cost cutting benefits, such as to the NHS. In the Mincome experiment in Canada (http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/12/23/mincome-in-dauphin-manitoba_n_6335682.html), they found that, “overall hospitalization rates (for accidents, injuries, and mental health diagnoses) dropped in the group who received basic income supplements.” This can be simply attributed to people being better able to look after themselves, physically and mentally, because they had enough money to cover basic needs, and the freedom to e.g. save for an education course, be able to afford to take part-time work, or cut hours and look after loved ones, and not have undue worries over any such.

    Some things you cannot easily quantify the benefit of, that the removal of conditionality will bring.

    Payment levels

    Payment levels that have been suggested by The Greens, e.g. for adults 16-64, would be slightly above the current rates of JSA/UC. The simple fact of the matter is that people are currently being forced to live on less and this certainly seems to be regardless of whether or not you can actually manage on it (with your HB paid) on a long-term basis.

    However, the removal of conditionality will mean that some expenses (e.g. cost of travel for regular signing-on) will be removed and at that rate of income, it all helps. It would seem to be a starting point for implementation, which could lead to significant rises as the system gets going.

    There have been suggestions of more reasonable levels of £100 p/w, possibly more, which from personal experience I believe is sustainable, but would then require additional measures to cover the cost – such as the aforementioned land value tax, which would replace council tax, or rises in income tax/other taxes.

    Whilst consecutive Governments have gradually reduced income tax levels, future ones may have to redress the balance. There can be cases made for the increasing of some taxes and rates that have been cut in recent years (e.g corporation tax), not to mention making better efforts to collect the vast amounts of tax underpaid/under collected due to evasion/avoidance.

    As it stands, a low level UBI could be paid for with that would slightly improve upon current unemployment benefit levels, meaning that those on the lowest incomes would certainly be better off, but there is scope for raising taxes/generating revenue to the Government that could result in higher levels of UBI.

    Financial instability

    The UBI means that everyone will have their basic needs covered. UBI should therefore be regarded as the cushion that protects all citizens from any such issues, but overall could and should act as a calming influence.

    People with a UBI will have the ability to re-educate, up-skill, train, learn or study, to improve themselves and their lives – and therefore their ability to find/obtain an earned income and perhaps start their own business, which they did not have the wherewithal to do before.

    The future is not set, but predictions can still be made – and predictions indicate an increasingly technological society with significantly fewer paid jobs. Many functions and jobs of work will become obsolete, mechanised or computerised, so we should be looking to change our world view of work and employment in particular.

    There are not enough jobs of work for the population now. Society needs to start accepting that many people will simply not have a paid job of work to do, so unless they can use their time to re-educate and/or explore their creative side in order to find some way to at least supplement their basic income, many people will need to have a sustainable level of UBI and find some other way to enrich their lives.

    Perhaps we will all learn to entertain or provide services to each other, one way or another, and earn a supplemental income that way, with micro transactions for doing things we like doing, or do anyway – like e.g. babysitting, or looking after Grand-dad for an evening.

    Do we instead let people starve, as the current Government does when it benefit sanctions people (and indirectly, their families)? Or do we work towards having a society that enables all to survive in modest comfort, whilst they work on enriching their lives?

    As one person commented about UBI, it should be regarded as “Guillotine insurance”; the means by which those who are well off will prevent the anarchy that would surely arise from having a system, as we do now, where people can be cut-off with nothing and are therefore left to rely on charity. This will eventually result in large numbers of people with no real chance of work, that are essentially left to die, as charity will not be able to cope with the numbers. There can only be one outcome there: Death and destruction.

    Employer subsidy

    This question makes no sense, as written. If I understand the gist of it correctly, this is another statistical collection and data issue that you link to UBI without real cause. It’s an ONS problem.

    State control

    The state has control now. This is already an issue and – therefore – isn’t particular to UBI and should already be addressed, therefore.

    The Right to Work requires all those of age to have ID that means being on a Government data base. People coming to the UK need passports. Children are registered at birth, NI numbers issued for when you are 16.

    There are very few people in the UK who are not already on a UK Government database. This implementation of UBI therefore presents no significant (if any) changes to pre-existing issues of state control.

    Self employment

    The self employed will not need working tax credits as they will get UBI.

    And finally…

    This question is essentially answered with the cost question, with the list of benefits it would replace, and the rest of your paragraphs are your personal assertions, which are an unfounded nonsense, because you don’t understand UBI, as has been demonstrated by your questions and the false premises some of them are based upon.

    I frankly don’t see how you can claim that a UBI would transfer money from the poor to the rich, any more than happens now. UBI does not replace the welfare state, as you seem to think, but some benefits will be replaced with it, which is why it could be introduced at virtually no cost.

    Before 2014, there was little interest or knowledge of UBI in the UK (a fact that has actually been documented via Google trends), so I suspect you have acquired your prejudice and hostility towards it from systems suggested for outside the UK where a UBi could more substantively replace the existing (or not) benefits system of the country concerned.

    However, the UK has a complicated and substantial welfare state which a UBI could never entirely replace (as it stands). You have assumed that a UK UBI would be about doing this, as has been evident from your questions, which link the proposed UBI with other aspects of the welfare state, which should have no bearing on a UBI.

    I believe this may be where your cynicism and false presumptions have come from and why you are so anti-UBI.

    Your own knowledge of the UK welfare system has in fact worked against you and what little prior knowledge you have had of a UBI has led to you having a closed-mind on the subject.

    The Greens have costed this. They cocked-up prior to the 2015 General Election over communication and presentation, rather than the sums, although the Neo-Liberal leaning Guardian reported it with that slant, which led to what had been a promising surge for The Greens petering out. They resolved the issue but by which time the bad press had done its damage.

    The Swiss are having a vote on it, as the people may want it (they petitioned for it), although the Government is against it (which is probably a sign that it will be better for the people). The Canadians are looking at a substantial pilot programme, bearing in mind the Mincome experiment they already had. The Dutch and Finnish are looking at small trials and the Japanese are interested, particularly as they see the way that the system would circulate money.

    The Greens have been proponents for a long time and the SNP and Labour parties are both looking at implementing it.

    Despite some support from some Conservatives, the Iain Duncan Smith years have left them politically stuck to having conditionality requirements to benefits.

    We are looking at a jobs implosion as AI and robots increasingly do the paid work humans do, which few people seem to grasp.

    There will be mass unemployment in the not too distant future, so we need to have a system in place that caters for that and removes the conditionality and stigma of being out of work, by giving everyone a basic income and not forcing us to look for unsuitable or unsatisfying work.

    The richest would get it but it willl not cover their increased tax liability, so they will be net payers to UBI – but for the poorest, UBI will mean being at least slightly better off financially, but a lot better off in terms of piece of mind and income security. No benefit sanctions sword of Damocles.

    It will free people up to do more worthwhile pursuits, which may lead to a society where we make our supplemental incomes from micro-transactions with each other, rather than relying on getting jobs from companies whose workforces will largely be machines.

    To be blunt, I see your view of UBI firmly stuck in the past, with false and out of date perceptions, whereas I see it as the best way for society as a whole to manage its future, without anarchy, rebellion or even revolution or war.

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  12. The green party proposals suggested paying for UBI by stripping conditonality out of a system paid to exising claimants to give to people who are not existing claimants ad was subject to a hasty mid election campaign retreat because it was revealed that the inevitable consequence of that was regressive. And on twitter, you stated that yes caring responsibilities would be done by women and if I recall correctly(and I might not doing) it was you who said that that was fine bacuse mothers want to be at home with their kids and will have time to revert to prewar gender norms…

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    1. I said no such thing. You asserted that. I said that carers who look after family who are unpaid will have a basic income as opposed to nothing. As far as I am concerned, UBI is gender neutral, because everyone gets it. You brought the issue of gender to this.

      What gender does what is a societal issue, which you are dragging into the UBI debate, when it is irrelevant to the UBI debate.

      “The green party proposals suggested paying for UBI by stripping conditonality (sic) out of a system paid to exising (sic) claimants to give to people who are not existing claimants ad was subject to a hasty mid election campaign retreat because it was revealed that the inevitable consequence of that was regressive”

      Untrue – but that is how it was reported by the Liberal & right wing media in January 2015 (The Guardian, The Spectator), when the Greens were gaining in the polls on Labour and having overtaken the Lib Dems (literally a week before the negative press – fancy that). There was an issue which was actually more to do with the means tested element of Housing Benefit – not what the UBI replaces.

      This was not helped by Natalie Bennett’s appalling interview with Andrew Neil.

      From basicIncome.org: Malcolm Torry has shed further light on this subject, saying, “The Guardian made an assumption that the Green Party scheme was the same as the scheme that the Citizen’s Income Trust published in its introductory booklet 2013. But the Green Party had not published the details of its scheme, so this was not a valid assumption. The CIT scheme does generate losses, although mainly small ones. This is why we did some more research, which was published in an Institute for Economic and Social Research working paper in September 2014. This shows that it is possible to implement a CI of £72 per week which doesn’t generate losses, but only if residual means-tested benefits are retained and a household’s CIs are taken into account when their means-tested benefits are calculated. What the Green Party will put in its manifesto we still don’t know. ”
      http://www.basicincome.org/news/2015/01/uk-green-partys-basic-income-proposal-scrutinized-experts/#comment-102637

      The Greens’ proposals I have referred to are the subsequent proposals from April 2015 and therefore take all that into account.

      What The Greens have done is confirmed that the UBI does not need to be means tested but other means tested benefits, particularly Housing Benefit, will need to stay in place, in order for it to work and not let anyone at the lower end of the income scale be worse off.

      Your understanding of events is therefore false – but to be fair, you were misled (as were many) by mainstream journalists in the run-up to the election campaign.

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      1. You mean Green Party proposals are, as I have repeatedly stated, a two tier benefits system? Because UBI doesnt replace the old one/. Please see article. And yes you did say women would want to stay at home with their kids.

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  13. 1. UBI vs. Housing Benefit. Although I am not familiar with the particular program in that country, I see UBI as fighting the housing crisis in several ways: a) Allowing people to decouple income from work which allows people to move to rural, less expensive rent areas b) as well as give people the financial boost needed to do things like build their own house and buy their own land, or maybe even a tinyhouse on wheels, etc.

    2. Would a UBI replace a motherhood pay? My guess is it would not affect the tax breaks given to mothers, and it would give mothers more freedom to chose how to help their child either with times spent with them or buying them better things/services.

    3. Childcare. More parents will be able to choose whether to stay home with the child instead of going to work. Similarly, more people will be able to choose childcare as a low paying job to supliment their basic income instead of being forced to look for full time work, doing something more profitable, to pay their bills.

    4. Disability. It would not replace all disability, just the part of it designed to pay for basic living costs. Benefits for care and other services would remain.

    5. Data. UBI would help the poorest the most in proportion. $100 means a lot more to someone in poverty than it does to someone in the middle class.

    6. UBI will not try to measure unemployment. The obsession with employment as a measure of well being is part of what a UBI would be challenging, which is a good thing.

    7/8. Gender equality/Care Roles? Answert is similar to number 3. Also, if both men and women have basic incomes, doesn’t this give men more opportunity to stay home and care for children? It also gives parents the opportunity to both work part time and split the time with kids…These are options that don’t really exist without BI.

    . Cost. This has been answer many times many different ways. I will not attempt to answer it again here except to say a slight raise in taxes minus obvious cuts to food, housing, and other basic neccesity programs that will be answered directly by a BI.

    9. Inequality: The UBI won’t adress political voice anymore than a welfare system would. However, people will have more choice and potentially more time if they choose to be political.

    10/11. Set it at the poverty level. It’s a safety net, so set it at the lowest people can go without becoming hungry/homeless. In the US, that’s about $1K a month.

    12. UBI amount will also adjust to fluctuations in the market economy.

    13. Not sure i understand.

    14. People’s income is already reliant on the state, the state that regulates how and when we pay or get paid for what. Also, in addition to taxes, the state enforces the law which keeps us secure enough to conduct business at all. A UBI would not come with strings attached. although the amount of money would change, it’s arguable that the government would have less power with a UBI since all its doing is transfering taxes equally. The govt has more power now in order to tranfer benefits based on means-testing.

    15. Why would a UBI influence self-employment tax laws? More people would be self-employed because they would be able to afford taking that risk. I’m not sure how that would affect their taxes off the top of my head.

    16. UBI implementation will be based on the results of experiments that show the benefits of giving money directly to those who are in need and those who aren’t. It’s a stimulus as well as an insurance against unemployment, etc. It also will not replace everythinng. It will just find its place in the sytem. It’s a rework of the system, not a replacement… and it is the most equitable and promising option (that gives the least power to the government, btw).

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  14. The correct solution of course is to restore to the list of features in left wing manifestos the commitment to full employment. It is noticeably absent from anything I’ve seen recently.

    And that’s because the easiest way to fix this is to give everybody access to a job paid for by the state at the living wage. Looking after children is a job. Looking after the disabled is a job. Looking after the elderly is a job. There are lots of jobs that would be nice to get done. It’s just at the moment there is nobody to pay the wage.

    Give people a job and pay them a living wage and you solve the majority of problems. You solve these at a higher income (£375 per week) and with lower tax rates – because you stop paying the living wage when somebody gets a job in the private sector or normal public sector.

    Which would you rather have? £375 per week or the £155 per week which is the highest income guarantee we’ve managed to sustain (the retirement pension).

    A Job Guarantee automatically switches state funding to areas with high unemployment and deprivation. It automatically adjusts that funding as areas come and go. If a big employer fails (say in Port Talbot) then a Job Guarantee ensures immediate and automatic central government funding in the area to maintain aggregate demand and reduce or prevent the collateral damage to other businesses in the area.

    What most UBI people fail to point out is that the basic rate tax has to be about 45% to recover the excess money injected into the economy – because UBI cripples the spend side auto stabilisers. So you’re giving people money to take it back again – triggering loss aversion psychology completely unnecessarily. (Calcs here: http://classonline.org.uk/docs/2013_Policy_Paper_-_Richard_Murphy__Howard_Reed_%28Social_State_-_Idleness.pdf)

    You’ll also find that few if any UBI advocates mention the simplest way of introducing an income guarantee – which is to reduce the state retirement age. And that’s because that would exclude those advocating the proposal. UBI is really about Basic Stipends (BS) for political activists. It does nothing to help the working poor.

    The working poor just want a stable job. It’s fairly obvious really. Work is leisure you get paid to do. Leisure is work you pay to do – and the poor don’t and won’t have the money. Only trustafarians have that.

    Ultimately the question is for those individuals who will continue to work – for example down the sewers clearing out the fat bergs. Are you, the friendly sewer cleaner, happy carrying on with your work, for a much reduced marginal income at a higher tax rate while others sit at home drinking beer and millionaires get more free money from the state.

    Anybody who thinks that sells on the doorstep really does need to get out more.

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    1. A friendly sewer cleaner could consider holding out for a better paid job. Its weird how opponents of UBI always worry about who will do the cleaning or take out the trash. Quite happy for them to do so for a pittance while others make a fortune doing the same hours just because their job puts them in proximity to huge amounts of money. If money was shit then the sewer cleaners would be getting bankers bonuses.

      With UBI Our sewer cleaner could join the ranks of the people sitting home drinking beer until such time as pay and conditions improve to the point where it is worth their while to take the job.

      NB: There is no supporting evidence for the theory that people will do nothing if given free money in any of the UBI trials conducted so far.

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  15. Spot on, NeilW – full employment should be the major aim of economic policy.

    And the idea that robots are going to take all our jobs! Well they’ve been saying that for more than a century, yet we’re still working long hours and the workforce has increased massively. It would be good though if there was a statutory working week of no more than 30 hours. And then we have to make working a decent experience. Any necessary unpleasant jobs should have shorter working hours and more pay.

    I actually sent a response to that CLASS piece by Murphy and Reed, whom I know. The whole thing was nonsense. I believe it also contained LVT to replace Council Tax only (when the potential is more than £200bn pa) and merging NICs with Income Tax. Don’t agree with that either.

    I’d started to think that I was one of a tiny minority who thinks UBI is rubbish.

    Actually the first I heard of it was from my right-wing libertarian friends in the LVT movement – some of whom believe that all the revenue from LVT should be shared out on a per capita basis (Citizens Dividend), with no state at all!

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    1. NeilW & Carol: A jobs guarantee could work well with UBI, it’s not an either/or, but the jobs should not be compulsory. However, I’ve never seen a good explanation of how which jobs will be decided without furthering the kind of corruption / job replacement at private companies we’ve seen with the current workfare programmes. See above for a discussion of what taxes should pay for UBI.a

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  16. It’s hard to disentangle the fair points from the personal aggro but here goes with a few more angles on basic income.

    First on a personal note: I’ll admit that just because I have over 30 years direct experience and study of the welfare system in the UK, that does not mean I’m always right about it. If I’m wrong about something though I’d appreciate knowing specifically what it is I’m wrong about.

    On care: As Gorz said about wages for housework in ‘Critique of Economic Reason’, the thing about caring is that it is fluid, and (at least within families) cannot be specifically paid for by the state without demeaning and/or further oppressing both the carer and those cared-for. How would you support caring which is currently unpaid, and a ‘care economy’ in a way which does not involve punching a time clock and/or even more oppressive state surveillance (say via one of these ‘smart’ watches)? How else besides UBI would you give more control (as well as more money) to those currently paid to do care work for others?

    Some of the strongest supporters of basic income and the concept of turning the economy into one based on care – of self, others and the environment – are carers, largely unpaid. Cf: the discussions on Facebook in the Basic Income Women’s Action Group, Carers for Basic Income in the US, any number of blogs about mothering, and Judith Schulevitz’s piece in the NYT last January: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/10/opinion/sunday/payback-time-for-women.html The reason so many women like myself support UBI is because it will neither force us back into the home nor into a job. It will give us real choices about how and how much we look after our families and friends, and how much work outside the home we want to do.

    Quite a few (mainly white) middle class women who call themselves feminists seem to be afraid of this, and talk about UBI as though it would be a regression if all women had real choices over working in a job and looking after their families. Despite the long-standing plaints that men aren’t doing their fair share, the fact that basic income would also make it possible for men to do more care work, is never mentioned by these women. That most working class white women and women of colour have always been doing a double (or often triple+) day, save some during the brief time of relatively high male working class wages 1960-1980 in industrialised countries, is also never mentioned by these ‘feminists’. That women from all parts of the world come here to look after kids / older relatives so that those all-important jobs can be pursued by ‘feminists’, and need to travel thousands of miles here to take these jobs to feed their own children back home – this also isn’t mentioned.

    There are growing movements for basic income in many of the places careworkers in the UK come from. I hope they succeed, and through BIEN and other international basic income orgs those of us in industrialised countries do what we can to support them. Foreign aid could also be divided equally amongst and go directly to the people it’s meant to help – at least then most of it would stay in those countries and actually help those economies.

    For other inequalities, you’ve not given any concrete reasons why UBI would make them worse, or why you think that UBI is ‘misogynist, disablist, racist’. Surely if everyone is getting the same basic amount of money, that decreases inequalities, at least those which result in lower / no income? Most especially for people who have never been paid?

    You slam as ‘two-tier’ systems UBI plans which keep the supplements in place for disability and housing, but you can’t have it both ways – accuse UBI supporters of trying to cover over these problems and then turn your nose up at hybrid UBI plans which take these into account.

    Basic income would also facilitate women in particular, but all genders really, to have the relationships we want, with whom we want and when we want. As I tried to show by posting the pictures of the police raid on a house in Croydon Jan 2015 on twitter a few weeks ago, the state is spending a lot of time, resources and exerting violence simply to find out if two people are ‘co-habiting’ or not. This is one reason why making payments on an individual basis is so important. On this aspect alone, through UBI the government would have far less control over our lives, particularly those of us who have the least.

    In terms of other forms of state control via UBI – which you hint at but don’t name – of course this will depend on how much power we have as a society viz a viz the government. And I agree with other commentators here that UBI certainly can’t make things worse than they are already. UBI would be significantly better even than merely rolling back to some older version of welfare, or somehow rejigging this one to comply with the Equalities Act. How specifically would that work – without, again, even more oppressive surveillance?

    On levels: This is a thorny issue among UBI supporters as much as anyone else. As a former benefit claimant and now advisor I can see the point of having some sort of hybrid system at first, while the campaigner in me is wants to start the negotiations high. Equally though, as a campaigner I can also see that we have to start somewhere, and a lower level hybrid system which does not take money / services away from the poorest could be a good start. Winning that however would not mean I or other advocates of a higher rate would pack up and leave things there!

    Given what happened with the mincome experiment in Canada, and the pilot of a small UBI in Namibia, the evidence is that basic income would result in savings to state services because there would be less need for them. As a former social worker, why do you think this would be a problem? You have conflated what Evelyn Forget said about this with what the small group of right-wing supporters of basic income like Charles Murray have said about using basic income to get rid of state services entirely. Nearly all basic income advocates are not in favour of it coming at a cost to public services, or supplements for specific needs.

    I am a great admirer of your phrase ‘policy-based evidence-making’ – but basic income is the only social policy I’ve seen which has been properly tested in several places, with further pilots in the pipeline in Finland, the Netherlands and France. Nearly all other social payments and services have simply been rolled out for political reasons, and continued regardless of evidence of harm.

    Most who don’t like the idea of basic income focus on it coming entirely from earned income taxes; the last 40 years or so of falling corporate and capital gains taxes (the proceeds of which we had a glimpse of in the Panama Papers) have been accompanied by collective amnesia about the role corporate and other taxes on income which is not directly earned used to play – and could again play – in government finances. And there have been many other ways put forward to pay for UBI; my personal favourite is a sovereign wealth fund formed from the rents on patents and copyrights. One reason I see that the successive governments have been so successful getting through cuts to services and benefits is this divide between people working and paying taxes and those who cannot.

    Once it gets going there is no reason why UBI couldn’t ‘respond to the economy’ in a way that the current and past benefit regimes never really did. UBI could be linked to GDP, for example, or tied to any number of indices, whether that’s inflation, a percentage of median wage, whatever. No one has ever said UBI would be the same rate forever, that is absurd. But really the question should be turned around – why shouldn’t an economy respond to (and better take care of) the people who live in it?

    Which brings me to a final point about UBI and ‘the economy’ which you seem treat as some abstract entity with its own rules which are somehow not connected to how humans live their lives, or those who actually control resources. That’s certainly how it’s portrayed in the press, and by most economists.

    The fundamental thing about UBI is that, unlike the social security systems we’ve seen up to now, it changes our relationship to work. UBI would give individuals in whatever situation more control over what they do, whether paid or unpaid. And as long as money is the measure of how much freedom an individual has, UBI even at a low rate (with supplements for specific needs) will be a loosening of the chains. I don’t understand why you think that would be such a bad thing.

    This will change ‘the economy’ no doubt, and for many of us who advocate for basic income, that is the aim. The way ‘the economy’ is run at the moment, it’s in danger of running most of us off a cliff – whether that’s by war, poverty or environmental degridation. I haven’t seen any better ideas than UBI to start – and *start* being important here, considering all the changes needed – to turn that bus around. For one thing it will start to remove the old ‘because jobs’ excuse for the arms and other harmful industries. Surely people can be employed on more useful manufactures?

    But the thing that really keeps me going on UBI, and why I’ve all but stopped campaigning to stop specific cuts of the current system, is the light in people’s faces I see when they imagine what they could do with some money in their pocket untied to either bureaucracy or employer. Or husband. When they can imagine that, it opens up a world of possibilities. I have seen no other specific demand do that.

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  17. You make some interesting thoughts that I had not considered before but I don’t think you are making a very good argument against UBI.Other commentors have answered most of the points quite well.

    I thought I would comment on this one:

    Data

    “We are supposed to use unemployment data to measure unemployment. The willingness of people to sign on once a fortnight allowed the most accurate measure of unemployment available. This tool has been destroyed by conditionality, but it needs to be restored. How will UBI measure unemployment?”

    In the UK there are two main measures of unemployment –

    The Claimant count (number receiving benefits)
    ILO – Labour Force Survey

    Given that claiment count is gamed by the government with their sanctions regimes and workfare I think it would leave the Labour Force Survey as the best method for tracking unemployment. However as that is not dependent on people claiming it would still be possible under UBI.

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  18. “2 Motherhood pay

    The motherhood pay penalty is linked to the labour market and changes constantly. Our benefits system responds to this by calculating tax credits according to wages, sometimes with Housing Benefit on top. This is directly linked to a changing economy. How will your UBI model do this?”

    Does our benefit system address this kind of inequality now? Will it under universal credit? Gender equality only for those who fall under a particular threshold of earnings? If we want gender pay equality then perhaps we should be arguing for pay to be public so that all workers can see what everyone else is earning. Do we really want to subsidise companies with tax credits. Besides I would hope that basic income is more generous than tax credits and that it does not require the government to have to enquire about your sleeping arrangements. Not to mention the hardship and fear that overpayment of credits can cause. Shall we call it a beurocracy pay penalty where some low paid mother is forced to pay back tax credits that were given to her in error. .

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  19. How is UBI a redistribution to the middle classes? Who are the middle classes anyway or working class for that matter? Which is Lord Sugar? Instead of class can we talk about income?

    On the assumption that we continue to pay HB how much are the low paid going to lose out? I guess one of the difficulties with the byzantine nature of our benefit system is that it is incrediby hard to work out how the poorest will be affected by changes in policy. Especially when benefits are tied to household. With HB as one of the biggest components its probably safe to say that a reasonably high level of UBI would ensure that they don’t lose out. But it would not be easy to work out you would almost have to go down to the level of individual cases

    UBI would need to be paid for by higher taxes, The lower the level of the UBI the worse off people in the upper income brackets would be. The top 20% would end up with less NET income unless the level of UBI was set very high. In theory you could fiddle with tax brackets to ensure that the poorest gained the most.

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