A few years ago now, we in Hastings had a visit from Guy Standing, talking about various aspects of the New Economics. One of the ideas that interested me was UBI (universal basic income).
I see it doing the rounds again now. Our own borough council have recently been taking steps to get involved, with a view to Hastings being one of the trial areas in future schemes.
There are many varieties of the project, and many original notions about how to apply it. Wales is currently thinking of it as a way to give care-leavers a better start in life.
As the news goes around social media, I notice a lot of people commenting for, or against, UBI on ideological grounds, or according to this or that party’s policy on it. I would like to suggest that the situation in our country now makes all that irrelevant.
The state we’re in
It would be hard to overstate the scale of the problems under-funding, privatisation and service-cuts have inflicted on this country. Even if you firmly believe that UBI can’t take us as a society where you want us to go, just look around you, and see where we are at now. Councils have been starved of funds and people’s wages have been depressed whilst the cost of living goes up and up. Every citizen, every town, every service and non-millionaire endeavour is desperate for an injection of cash, just to get us back to a workable level. Any halfway decent politician would be looking for a way to do that. UBI, even if just a two-year trial, would do the job.
Even at the peak of the social contract, when the income gap was going down, and local authority services were at their height, we were aware that care-leavers had a harder road than most. Everything switches off when they reach young adulthood, and they don’t have that emergency fall-back the rest of us have (however we may try to avoid it) of running home to mum when things go pear-shaped.
Giving them an income will solve a welter of problems. It ensures that, for example, a youngster entering college can go the distance with enough money in the bank to live decently, or that one with an offer of a job or apprenticeship can afford a decent flat to live in while they get going. The value that gives to our community is so enormous, even if you only ever accept that one pilot scheme.
Give us our money back – by any means you can
In my town, people who were poor a few years ago are destitute now. People who were just coping a few years ago now have that grey, ever-tired look of despair about them. There are kids out there who’ve never been generously fed, and never had a decent holiday. There are kids out there who’ve never had a holiday – or a home. Those who thought they were okay are now looking worried, and cutting back on many things they thought they could afford. People have long put off fixing everything from the garden fence to their teeth. This in turn depresses activity in the local economy.
Whatever is right or wrong, long term, or in an ideal world, there are countless towns in this country that would be transformed, countless lives that would be saved if there were a way to facilitate an uptick in confidence and activity. If people decided they could, after all, afford the hair-do, the new bikes for the kids, the new boiler, the coffee-and-cake while they’re in town, the course they’d been wanting to do – not only would their lives improve, but the turnover of local businesses would.
As for your ideological concerns – you may well be right. This may be something to drop, somewhere down the line but do you know what makes it really, really hard in this country to get mass support for socialism, for environmentalism, for the new economics, for *anything* really? It’s the fact that most people are too busy battling to keep hold of the basic needs of life to sit down and discuss anything more ambitious.
For the sake of all those people, for care-leavers in Wales – for all of us – let’s drop the ideological arguments, and get behind the campaign for UBI. We need SOMETHING and UBI pilots would be a whole lot better than nothing.
There’s a meeting for Hastings people to learn more about it on the 21st March – for details, click here.
Times are hard (we don’t have UBI) and so the articles on this site are freely available, but if you are able to support my work by making a donation, I am very grateful.