Above photo: Flikr/Generation Grundeinkommen.
England is about to pilot a basic income scheme for the first time. Thirty people will receive £1600 a month for two years. The trial, which will take place in central Jarrow and East Finchley, seeks to find out what effects this will have on the lives of the participants.
Will Stronge, director of research from thinktank Autonomy, said:
All the evidence shows that it would directly alleviate poverty and boost millions of people’s wellbeing: the potential benefits are just too large to ignore.
Indeed, this seems like an interesting and positive scheme to tackle the hardship millions of people face in this country. However, unsurprisingly, debates within the corporate media have included baseless criticism and personal attacks.
Good Morning Britain invited Will Stronge to debate UBI with former Apprentice winner and millionaire Michelle Dewberry. The debate quickly moved on from the pilot scheme to what a basic income would look like at the national level.
Dewberry accused Stronge and the pilot scheme of being the “height of delusion”. She also claimed UBI would “set this country up to fail”, with the whole idea being unaffordable.
The Economic Times claimed that “Free money makes people lazy” in its headline, citing Finland as an example. However, this was contradicted in the article itself:
“On the basis of an analysis of register data on an annual level, we can say that during the first year of the experiment the recipients of a basic income were no better or worse than the control group at finding employment in the open labor market,” said Ohto Kanninen, Research Coordinator at the Labour Institute for Economic Research.
The recipients did however report “less stress symptoms as well as less as difficulties to concentrate and less health problems than the control group…
The opposite of the headline’s claim, then – plus a net benefit. So, if the critics of UBI were sincere in looking for ways to help ordinary people, surely they wouldn’t be so quick to shut down these ideas. But that’s not how the corporate media operates, is it?
Finland’s Basic Income
In the Finnish case, two thousand people received €560 (£490) per month for two years in Finland’s nationwide basic income. The scheme was rolled out by Kela and The Social Insurance Institution of Finland.
Professor Helena Blomberg-Kroll from Helsinki University, who led the study, said that:
Some people said the basic income had zero effect on their productivity, as there were still no jobs in the area they were trained for…
But others said that with the basic income they were prepared to take low-paying jobs they would otherwise have avoided.
More importantly, the basic income scheme had a massive effect on participants’ wellbeing:
Average life satisfaction among the treatment group was 7.3 out of 10, compared with 6.8 in the control group—a very large increase.
What’s more, people found that they experienced better health, and lower levels of depression and loneliness.
Other similar schemes have also been trialled in the US, Canada, Brazil, Namibia and India.
Of course, basic income concepts are not without their potential flaws. Despite the possibility to drastically improve the lives of many people, there’s a huge possible downfall we should be mindful of – it could well play into capitalist hands.
Basic income has been endorsed from not only some on the left, but on the right too. Right-wing thinktank the Adam Smith Institute have shown support for the policy.
So, why exactly would the political right support a state wage? Many on the right constantly attack welfare and those who are on Universal Credit. They argue that recipients are living off other people’s money without having to work themselves.
However, the existence of a basic income could give consensus to mass privatisation. The right could argue that we would have no need for public services which are free at the point of use when citizens could use UBI to pick and choose between such services.
In turn, this is why some argue that universal basic services – where housing, health, education, transport and food are guaranteed free at the point of use – are a better idea.
A celebration of ideas
In a time of rising inequality and automation, universal basic income schemes attempt to truly tackle the great crises we face. They also give us a chance to discuss the nature of the way we all work.
We should be looking at ways for all our lives to improve, to strive for a better balance between work and leisure. Why shouldn’t we work less? Why shouldn’t we have the space to pursue our passions, to spend more time with loved ones?
Instead, we spend most of our lives in work, which for many is menial, insecure, and damaging to our mental and physical health.
The trials and the discussions around basic income schemes should therefore be welcomed, and could radically transform the lives of millions for the better. However, we should remain watchful that a scheme which genuinely tries to do good does not play straight into the hands of capitalism and privatisation.