Monday, 24 March 2014

A citizen’s income

A interesting idea I’ve come across via the green party I’m not sure if it was their idea originally but a citizens income guaranteeing all a basic standard of living seems a really positive interesting idea and worth exploring more. I know there will be the claims of where wills the incentive to work be if we all get paid anyway let me explain. Work dominates our lives at present it forms the basis to much of what we strive for as wage labourers. Let’s not forget that a colossal amount of work is done in society that is not formally regarded as ‘work’. I am talking specifically about parenting, care of the disabled by family members, and voluntary work in the community. At the moment, much of this work goes unremunerated – and is even regarded as inferior to proper, ‘paid’ work in the formal sense. (”What are those mothers doing at home when they should be out looking for a job?” is a question often barked, usually at poor mothers). A CI finally provides the financial space for this socially invaluable work to happen. What sort of a society are we if we don’t recognise the importance of these tasks? There is also the class politics of this – how it affects the relationship between labour and capital. It seems to me that ‘welfare reform’ has a very specific agenda, which is to create a more pliable workforce. If people in work know that there is no longer much of a safety net, then they will hold on more tenaciously to jobs with bad conditions and bad pay. All of that means higher profits. A Citizen’s Income – a new, bolstered welfare state – begins to tip the bargaining power back in favour of labour. This is why a CI should be taken up by the trade union movement or at least explored to its benefits. But for me, personally, the best argument for a Citizen’s Income is to improve public health, through the stress relief that it would bring. I write this as someone who has been on and off benefits in the past few years, and I can personally testify that the stress of it all sometimes made me feel stressed. As the authors of the Spirit Level suggest, what could fill the explanatory gap between economic inequality and poor social outcomes is, simply, stress. Obesity, depression, addiction – all rooted in the intensely stressful society we live in. A Citizen’s Income – as well as being profoundly redistributive – would, in one fell swoop, lift a corrosive level of stress from our society. And what of the cost and the politics of it all? Well, it’s far more politically palatable than it may sound – as a benefit that would be universal, the divide and rule strategies used by the right to pit the working poor against the unemployed would be blunted. It’s possible that some people would simply not accept the principle that you can get something for nothing, but that is merely because people have internalised the twisted principles of capitalism: and that’s something we’ll have to fight against. It’s far more affordable than it sounds as well: as the Citizen’s Income Trust have demonstrated, the cost would work out at roughly the same as the current welfare bill, which – we must not forget, the vast bulk of which is pensions, housing benefit, and working tax credit. These are just initial thoughts. It’s possible there are serious drawbacks I have over-looked. Two spring to mind immediately. First, the definition of citizenship could be open to abuse – excluding those with a criminal record, recent immigrants etc. Second, contrary to my previous point about the class implications of a CI, it could entrench poor working conditions. It would be imperative those industrial battles continued. But for just now at least, I think this is an idea worth fighting for.

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