I am a disabled member of the public with an interest in the Unconditional Basic Income - I have been for decades since it was first Green Party policy. Thus I will be arguing for the Unconditional Basic Income from the perspective of disability. You may notice I have replaced the word ‘universal’ with ‘unconditional’. In fact, they both need to be there. There needs to be ‘no strings attached’ (unconditional) and it needs to be ‘universal’ (available to everyone).
I have entered into many a discussion: some argue against the idea of universal benefits because they don’t think those who are well off should also be in receipt of them e.g. the TV License, bus passes, winter fuel allowance etc. However, universal benefits are the most cost effective to administer, otherwise you get into the business of means-testing and that is costly and divisive. That’s not to say there isn’t a place for some means-tested benefits as supplements or add-ons e.g. disability and housing elements. But the universal aspect of it should be just that, and unconditional. Universal Credit is a bastardisation of the universal principle. It’s not universal and it’s not unconditional which is why it’s a wasted opportunity.
Obviously, the costs and the means-tested elements have to be thought through and worked out. Not everyone is going to agree at what constitutes a decent amount but something like the state pension figure is a good starting point for working age adults, certainly no lower than £100 per week for food, clothes and heat. Housing and extra costs for disability would need to be treated separately. A fair and affordable figure could be arrived out by learning from other European countries and those further afield where it’s been pioneered previously e.g. Canada.
But as it stands at the moment, we have the poorest people in society, being coerced and sanctioned if they can’t find work, even though everybody without exception, is entitled - yes entitled - to shelter, food and warmth. It is outrageous in one of the world’s richest economies that it should be otherwise. We quite rightly wouldn’t let a dog be cold and hungry on the streets and yet successive ministers seem to think it is quite OK to have people hungry and homeless. with their pernicious policies.
We have now reached a stage with the global economy and the rise of digital economies, where there isn’t enough employment for all in the traditional sense of the word, and where’s there’s a lot of ‘free'. The internet is full of free: free advice, free downloads, books, photos, videos and much more. This is a good thing and to be welcomed for the consumer, though not so good for the creator or the adviser which is why the old model is no longer relevant in the 21st century. This is why it is time to separate ‘work' from ‘income’ and when I talk about work I am talking about it in the widest sense. Successive governments have used many a mantra to get the public onside regarding welfare reform, but for me one of the most pernicious is the ‘something for nothing’ one. The language is designed to rubbish and dismiss those unable to earn enough to live on. In reality, the reverse of ‘something for nothing’ can be found in every nook and cranny in society. People volunteer, they parent, they care for the elderly and the sick, they care for animals, offer advice, be it legal or access to justice, or study to improve themselves. E-books, photos, music downloads and instructive manuals are offered as free downloads daily on the internet. People are happy to give and share their creations and knowledge on the internet for free or for little renumeration, because people are by nature altruistic and government ministers and rhetoric have been slow to acknowledge this, if they’ve acknowledged it at all. Sometimes they’ve corrupted it. But all I see is the opposite. I see the nothing for something society wherever I look: people giving something in return for ‘nothing’. The big society is alive and kicking.
As an artist myself (in the wide sense), I also have a special interest in UBI from that perspective. Art is not only therapeutic but makes me feel valued and worth something. I can do it from home. I am never going to make enough to live on firstly because of my precarious health and secondly because the arts are precarious. But I see people giving and sharing their creative endeavours for free or for little renumeration. The government only plays lip service to ‘the creative industries’ and the ‘talents of disabled people’ but a government that really cared about the creative talent of its people, especially disabled people, would subsidise those who are unable to be economically self-reliant. They would encourage creative (or educational or voluntary) pursuits of the long term sick and disabled, instead of seeing them as economic units to be bullied, coerced, sanctioned and erased.
This is why I feel passionately about an Unconditional and Universal Basic Income, as have been pioneered in other countries. It would mean people like myself could take risks, instead of living in fear, knowing that they didn’t stand to lose all should they fail. Fear incapacitates. Bullying, coercion and sanctions also incapacitate. Let’s get rid of these barbaric notions once and for all. The separation of living needs (warmth, shelter, food, clothing) from the higher pursuits in life i.e. how one spends one’s time is long overdue. I don’t buy the argument either that ‘nobody would work’ if we had UBI. If work is such a good thing, then people will want and choose to do it, as they already do. I am, once again, talking about work in the widest possible sense. It is absurd that in the 21st century we still have an old-fashioned 20th century model of work, where people leave their houses to work for an employer for 35 hours a week. Yes, that is one form, but work has diversified greatly in the last few decades.
Surely it is time to value and celebrate that which is ‘given away’ for the benefit of all? Isn’t it time we had a real and intelligent debate about work in the wider sense of using one’s time valuably and or for the benefit of the whole community instead of seeing how many more hoops the DWP are going to make the long term unemployed and disabled jump through just to get money to live on?
I hope you will take on board all these arguments which have also been made by many in my situation.