Is it a good idea to have a basic income?

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Is it a good idea to have a basic income?

Barb Jacobson works for Basic Income UK and Francine Mestrum is an author and sociologist. They discuss the idea.

Barb – yes, it’s a good idea

I have been a student, a feminist, a welfare claimant, a waitress, a journalist, a community organizer, a mother. With all of these jobs I had little or no income. A basic income would make my life easier and I know I would lose the job I do now as a housing and benefits adviser.

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YES: Barb Jacobson works for Basic Income UK. She was a member of Wages for Housework. She has worked in community organizations since 1991 in housing and health. She works for the Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association in central London.

I have been fighting against welfare and housing cuts in London since 1981. I am tired of losing.

We have won some things: squatters saved many Georgian and Victorian houses in London. Child benefit for everyone was saved until last year. A few clinics and hospitals were saved – but of course all of the National Health Service (NHS) was not saved.

And the Left are still talking about jobs – but they are not worried about the effect on people’s lives and the environment. And who is offering the jobs? Governments are so corrupt. They don’t care about people. And private business only wants to make money. This point of view is only possible because jobs are most people’s only income. It doesn’t think about the work that people already do for free outside their jobs.

Surely it’s better to give people money and then they decide what to do with it, and what to do with their time. And this means no stress, no overwork, and no terrible bureaucracy.

Francine – no, it’s not a good idea

I agree that people are doing important work to organize communities better and to fight for social rights. I also agree that people without a job or income have big problems. Of course they have income problems and problems with the difficult welfare system.

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NO: Francine Mestrum has a PhD in social sciences. Her research is on social development, poverty, inequality, globalization, and gender relations. She works for Global Social Justice and speaks for CETRI (Centre Tricontinental) in the International Council of the World Social Forum.

But from there, where do we go? You speak of a basic income but I am not sure that this is the best answer. If a basic income is money to give to everyone, rich and poor, with no conditions, then I cannot agree. There are better ideas, like a minimum income for everyone who does not have a job.

I have discussed basic income with other people and I said that poverty means not having enough money. To my surprise, many people disagreed and said: ‘No, no, no. Poverty is a complicated problem. Poor people have so many different problems …’ But these same people are now saying ‘Please, just give money to the poor’.

I do not believe that to stop poverty, it is a good idea to give money to people who are not poor. But we have to give enough money to the poor so they can live with respect.

I don’t understand what you mean when you talk about your job. Would you prefer not to work but to receive an allowance of money?

Barb - yes, it’s a good idea

That’s the problem. How do we decide who is ‘poor’ and who is ‘not poor’? And who decides?

Someone with a violent or boring partner trapped by financial dependence in a marriage is ‘poor’ even with a lot of money. Someone with a terrible, boring, useless job is ‘poor’ even with a good income.

Why do we allow jobs that are bad for the environment, that are bad for the people who do them, or that are bad for others? If we want to stop these jobs – and we must if we want to survive – the people who do them will need an income. They will need an income while we find better ways to make money to live.

In fact, why does anyone need to have a job unless you have an income from rent or in other words from other people’s work? Isn’t it better to share the extra money more equally and share work itself? A basic income for everyone would make it OK not to earn money. It would give people time to do the things that governments and the markets do not pay for.

You ask if I would prefer not to work but to receive an allowance of money. What I think is that my job should not have to exist. I’m doing socially necessary work. But I’d be happier if people didn’t need help with housing and benefits. Then I would have more time to do and think about other things. Do you think that is ‘work’? I don’t know.

Francine - no, it’s not a good idea

We both want a different economy and a different society. We both want to share the work and to share the incomes.

Perhaps a basic income will solve some problems, but certainly not all problems. Environmental problems and poverty need a different idea.

People who are really poor and can’t find a job should get an allowance of money. Other people may also need help with housing, childcare, and education. They should not get a basic income, which will not help these problems. But they need the social rights and benefits from the welfare state which came after many years of social struggle. We should not lose it.

A basic income is paid in money, and this money comes from others. We should respect these people and we should not ask them to pay for the people who do not need it.

Yes, some jobs should not exist. But all work should be paid, even the work of caregivers. It is necessary work and we should share it. That is where the conditions are.

Barb - yes, it’s a good idea

The idea of no conditions is necessary for helping those who need it most. It is also the most practical way to give it.

Every week I see the problems from means-testing – checking to see how much people earn. This stops people asking for benefits. People don’t want others looking at their personal finances and they feel shame. This is very true of pensioners who have the right to extra pension. I’ve seen many people ruin their lives. They lose family relationships, friendships, and their homes by going into debt. And finally they ask for the means-tested benefits they had the rights to.

There is the tax rate, so that, if people work and still have the right to benefits, they can only keep 15 per cent of the extra money. There is also the problem of complicated contracts. People spend more and more time making and cancelling claims. This makes more work for the system. I think all of this makes real suffering and it is unnecessary. And it wastes everyone’s time.

I’m not worried about people who ‘don’t need’ a basic income. They will pay tax on extra income. I would prefer that income from work should not be taxed at all. Taxes on unearned income by the richest would balance society. At the moment, at least in Britain, we pay less tax on unearned income than on earned income.

Of course, people in all income groups need services like health, education, childcare , and housing.

Francine - no, it’s not a good idea

A basic income with no conditions is not possible and is not a good idea. This is because there is a relationship between the state and its citizens. Citizens understand the power of the state, and the state is responsible for the welfare of the citizens. We cannot allow a state to give money to people and then forget them. We cannot allow citizens to accept money and then forget the state.

There will always be conditions to benefits.

If the conditions now are not right – and they are not – then we must improve them. We must not forget them.

Some people who agree with a basic income say they can pay for it and keep the welfare state! Here in Belgium, a basic income of $960 is not a good income but it would cost 24 per cent of our GDP. Our social security also costs 24 per cent of GDP. How could we have these two costs?

Many people just want to stop the welfare state and the trade unions. They want to keep the social and economic structures that make poverty and inequality.

We agree about many things but I do not agree with your solutions. I want to think again about making society safe with the ideas of our common humanity, and the social and economic rights others have worked hard for.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: http://newint.org/sections/argument/2014/04/01/should-there-be-a-basic-income//

(This article has been simplified, so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).