A Universal Basic Income

By Paul MacDonald (United Kingdom)

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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).

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. With sensible saving and a willingness to work for it, 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.

Charity and volunteering

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.

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).

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.

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One thought on “A Universal Basic Income

  1. Pingback: The Problem of Inequality | Together in Dignity

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