As a proponent of a Basic Income (AKA Citizen’s Income/Universal Income), I have seen a number of people make negative comments about it, but virtually all of them are based on ignorance combined with pessimism.
I want to address one of these criticisms: That a Basic Income would mean lots of people would just be lazy and do nothing.
If you actually thought about that at all, instead of just adhering to what certain brands of political persuasions would have you believe about the ‘lazy’ or ‘workshy’ or ‘benefit scroungers’, then you might realise what a nonsense it is.
And for anyone who does want to be lazy and do nothing? I say let them. I’ll explain why in due course.
But to refute the presumption that some have, that if people were just given a basic income, that they would do nothing with it, first of all those who make such an assertion do not appreciate the many people who do not work are doing something else.
There are just under 9 million people in the UK classified as economically inactive aged 16-64. These are students, people at home looking after children or other family members, people who had redundancy or took early retirement, etc.
Additionally, there are 1.685 million unemployed and looking for work, at the last count, many of whom receive benefits to get by on, but on the condition that they look for and are available for work.
Since “Education, education, education“, employers have raised the educational standards expected of staff. People who left education before the rise of New Labour, however, may not be as well qualified, as they obtained their role when a lesser standard was required, but nevertheless have proven competent, at least, and have the benefit of greater experience.
Whilst these people may not be academically qualified to do their role, time has qualified them. For the generation since – as well as those unfortunate to find themselves out of work after years in work – a higher standard is being applied to virtually all work, which now means almost a third of people in work are either over-qualified or under-qualified for the job they have.
This means a lot of people are in the wrong job. Benefits conditionality however means that if they leave the job they are in, they may be barred from claiming benefits for a significant length of time. They have to wait for that elusive job to come along.
In the meantime, the unemployed are increasingly being labelled as ‘lazy scroungers’ and are increasingly forced to take work that they may not be suited to, either. This whilst the conditionality of their benefits means that they cannot take time out to up-skill with a full-time course and do what really suits them. Only short-term, part-time courses can be taken, which may offer some alternative education, but are not always what is needed or desired.
So many go from no job to the wrong job.
Where does this cycle end? How long will it be before you can get into that job? And won’t it end up being taken by someone younger, who didn’t have these problems, because they were financially supported by e.g. rich parents, so they can get their qualifications sooner and be available as required?
And whilst those who left education after that Blair speech may have been better placed to gain higher qualifications than the generation before them, there is no guarantee that they will not have similar issues as they get older and times change.
Society needs to address this. It needs to allow people the opportunity to up-skill or at least obtain qualifications they didn’t previously have – or need – but as things are, if you are not particularly well paid, or don’t have any savings, then lose your job, you are screwed for going (back) into full-time education.
A Basic Income would change all this. It would provide the individual with the support they need to educate or re-educate themselves.
Furthermore, whilst advancing tech and AI may lead to job opportunities, thees are, by their nature, labour saving devices. They will lead to the loss of far more jobs than will be created.
“The five million number is the net figure. The total job losses will come to seven million which will be set off against two million jobs created, because of the revolution…”
With regard to those who are “Economically inactive”, the students (which at least some of the unemployed would turn into) and the parents, etc, they will now be provided with the means to get by whilst they do what they need to do for their families or themselves.
There are also artists who may need to hone their craft or create a portfolio of work in order to be successful. Arts and culture income (e.g. music) is predominantly commission or sales based income, but few successful artists achieve their success straight away, and struggle. How many more artists and musicians and thespians might we have if they had the means to survive until they acquire success. One could certainly argue that the least this would do is provide a greater diversity of talent, as it would enable the less well-off to do this instead of seek work in order to get by, that will more than likely take them away from their art/craft.
This can only be of benefit to society.
So, whilst I can demonstrate that there are people who would not be lazy and would do something useful, do I have any idea as to how many this might apply to – and how many would simply drop-out of doing anything?
Actually, I do.
First of all, I can establish that in a Basic Income experiment, that there was no significant drop-off of the number of people looking for work. The reason people are unemployed at all, is rarely due to their own devices.
...welfare does not substantially affect unemployment. It’s not benefits: it’s the economy.
In the UK, Between 1992-2015, the number of people who were out of work long-term, never exceeded 4.3% and hasn’t exceeded 3% since the late 1990s. It currently stands at 1.5%. It’s reasonable to assume that not all of those people are lazy, but are instead unfortunate, particularly with the likes of the 2008 crash, which is then compounded by reasons such as those that I’ve supplied above.
The Swiss are to have a referendum on a Basic Income. The idea actually came about from a petition that was signed by 130,000 people.
The Swiss have therefore been polled on their attitudes and likely responses to a basic income. The results indicated that only 2% would stop working.
This 2% figure would seem to relate to our actual statistics for long-term unemployment.
Both suggest that very few people would do nothing and be ‘workshy’ if they could survive through a low level income or an unconditional basic income for a length of time.
Now ask yourself, what kind of person would do that?
Perhaps some would be people who have had horrific work experiences, or may some mild form of mental illness and they cannot handle workplace situations.
I can certainly attest, from personal experience, that some of these people are so disheartened with having lost work, and can’t find anything to replace it with, and lack the time and/or money for the courses that might educate them or train them for something else, that they have simply given up hope of getting work. They no longer believe that they will ever work again – so why try?
For them, a basic income may be the second chance that they were previously hoping for
But as for anyone who is perfectly healthy and who would choose not to try and earn more than their basic needs require, or do something in the community, such as gardening or voluntary work, or educate themselves in order to do something else in the long-term, or look after other people, in their own family, or in their neighbourhood, what kind of life are they going to have?
Who would choose to have an empty life like that? Who would genuinely do that to themselves for any length of time?
And who would want to employ them if they did?
Surely though, even those that made that choice, they would get bored eventually and go and do something of their own accord?
I believe that this desire to be all one can be would assert itself sooner or later. You don’t need a tutting civil servant (or snooty Tory) to chase them up. Their own conscience will do that job.
But let us say some do not. Let us say that 2% is indicative and they won’t work or do anything else productive, but would just watch TV or play computer games.
With a basic income, at least they won’t be falling into ill-health through ongoing worries about work, or starvation and ending up in either charitable need, or as a health patient, because of malnutrition or some related ailment.
They would still be consumers, so their basic income would still get spent on food and other necessities, so the money at least would cycle.
Finally, when you consider the impact on the availability of work in the not-too distant future that AI and robotics are going to have, the number of people out of work is going to rocket upwards and the competition for jobs will be much worse than it already is.
So anyone who does decide that they will have a meaningless life and just settle for their basic income until they die – I say fine, let them. If that is what they want, why stand in their way – especially if they are staying out of the way of people who are after those increasingly few paid jobs that do/will remain for us humans to do.