@boycottworkfare has persuaded me that we should operate a pincer movement on IDS rather than join forces. He accepts that the removal of means testing is essential, but he has pointed out to me some of the practicalities of campaigning.
So what are the possibilities for a Citizens’, or Basic Income campaign to join the fray? Since the 1980s there has always been the Citizens Income Trust, associated with BIEN – Basic Income Earth Network – very knowledgeable but mainly academic, though Senator Edouardo Suplicy is making progress in Brazil. I have only just made contact with a European Basic Income campaign. Whilst the usual arguments in favour are there, it is not particularly related to the welfare benefits issue which is acute in Britain at present. More info on that as I get it. A hopefully more definite possibility is my motion D24 on the Green Party conference agenda this weekend. Conference is why this blog is a day early. The motion reads:
Green Party conference motion
Using the government’s own background briefing against it in support of the opposition to the misguided welfare reform plans
“Conference calls on the Green Party leadership and campaigns team to draw the attention of the public, but especially protesters against the government’s welfare reform proposals of the devastating analysis of the demoralizing impact of the withdrawal of means tested benefits in Dynamic Benefits: towards a Welfare System that works (2009).
Although the Citizens’ Income is not mentioned, Dynamic Benefits, published by a think tank set up by Iain Duncan Smith demonstrates that the welfare policies of the current coalition government fall far short of being able to solve the problems the report highlights.
Dynamic Benefits argues that those who avoid entering the labour market are making a rational decision in view of the benefits they will lose. To take away those benefits and plunge families into poverty cannot be the solution, and conference instructs policy committee to take the arguments for a Citizens Income into account when discussing welfare policy and employment. Dynamic Benefits’provides a complete rebuttal of the ‘anti-scrounger’ attitudes fostered by some sections of the media.” [end of motion]
A motion a couple of conferences ago calling for more positive action on the Citizens’ Income received substantial support, so I think this will too. The trouble is that the Party didn’t get round to implementing that decision. Why not? Why should this time be any different?
To begin with, it wasn’t focussed on workfare, I hadn’t learnt how to blog, and I wasn’t in contact with either
We have a new Leader – Natalie Bennett. We all have great respect for Caroline Lucas, but she was (still is) nervous that a hostile media would distort the arguments. It wouldn’t take much to turn her narrow victory in Brighton Pavilion into a narrow defeat. Sorry Caroline, but yes, I am asking the Green Party to take a risk, but if it works, it will not only blow workfare away, it will place Green politics centre stage. Whether Caroline is right or I am depends on the publicity we get.
With our new allies against a government with a workfare agenda which is both nasty and idiotic, I hope I can convince the Green Party campaign team – and of course Natalie –that the Citizens’ Income principle is both needed now, and in the Party’s interests. There will be objections. Caroline and Natalie are part of a team, and that team rightly looks at the worst that could be hurled at us. So to be Devil’s advocate, what is the minimum figure a CI must be? The Zaccheus Trust sent a Memorandum to the Prime minister in 2004
suggesting that a single able bodied male aged between 18 and 30 needed a minimum of £107 and a ‘maximum’ (still excluding any luxuries) of £164 for a healthy life. I would go further. Every adult should receive at least £71 + £64 + £25 per week. How this £160 is arrived at is discussed in earlier postings. Suffice it to admit that it would invite ridicule in a political party’s election manifesto.
But if you want to go to bed, and the bed is upstairs, you don’t go outside and take a running jump at the front wall. You take it a step at a time, so Dynamic Benefits is where we start. I want to save the planet. You can forget about that. I think it essential that Caroline Lucas and Zac Goldsmith work together. That too can wait. We simply point out, and repeat, and say it again until it sinks in, that Dynamic Benefits shows in detail how the withdrawal of means tested benefits is a tax.It isn’t just like a tax. As a benefit is withdrawn, you are being taxed. It is massive on the lowest incomes, but meaningless to nearly everyone else.
Iain Duncan Smith thinks that a geologist who can’t find a job should work for her benefits. That seems perfectly sensible to all those reasonable people who earn enough not to notice the massive tax they have all paid on the first £13,000 per annum of their income, because they don’t qualify for any means tested benefits. We can quote Lady Rhys Williams, who warned the Beveridge Commission in 1942 just how serious a problem this would become whenever unemployment was more than miniscule. (No link to Lady Rhys Williams. Her minority report recommending a Basic (i.e. Citizens)’ Income was not allowed to be published.) The Guardian recently quoted a figure of 6 workless chasing every job nationally. A radio interview this week quoted a figure of around 20 applicants per job.
Lady Rhys Williams’ worst fears have come true, but IDS is incapable of thinking beyond the 19th Century Poor Law mentality. The flaw she warned against – the work disincentive – means that the system must demonize and penalize the workless. It must try to, or in practice pretend to create jobs, paying good money to private firms to do so. Never mind that it makes no sense to compel anyone to work with an unemployment rate of 7%, the faulty logic in a context to which ‘Beveridge’ does not apply means that the disabled must also be made to compete for non existent jobs.
In the 1960s there was talk of the ‘Leisure Society’. What were we all going to do with our time now that automation could perform so much of the work? If the Citizens’ Income had been in everyone’s minds then, society could have slipped seamlessly into a totally new mind set, more suited to our situation now. It never happened because it did not suit the agenda of powerful vested interests. They got their profits from the affluent society, and the planet was not yet in danger. But if those same vested interests want to go on making profits indefinitely, they would be well advised to help us become sustainable now. Getting rid of workfare is the immediate first step.
That figure of £160 per week per person may seem far-fetched, but once enough people have woken up from the whole workfare nightmare, the logic will propel society inexorably towards it. Let’s take it a step at a time. Who defends the poor paying more in tax or tax equivalent than everybody else? (Glance again at the graph at the top.) The Citizens’ Income principle – no need for figures yet – shifts this disguised tax and replaces it with a real one on higher incomes. As long as the economy is under-performing, there is no need to take it back from anyone. Just use ‘Quantitative Easing’’ directly to people – a form of ‘Helicopter money’. As the economy recovers, some would have to be taken in the form of income tax on the better off, but resource taxes, notably Land Value Tax, or other resource taxes as in Alaska would share the burden. The only problem with all this is that the super rich would find it easier than the disabled to shift their money out of reach.
Aesop’s fable of the sun and the wind trying to get a traveller to take off his coat illustrated the proverb ‘Persuasion is better than force’. With a Citizens’ Income no one need do any paid work, from the cradle to the grave if they so wish.
BUT, for the first time, you will be better off if you do work for pay.
There is absolutely NO need for compulsion.
All jobs which cannot be done by machines will get done. Market forces will decide the rate per hour, with potential employer and employee having equal bargaining power. Disabled? Lots of part time work, or an agreed lower hourly rate. I could go on (I do, in the book).
I hope Natalie is still reading, because this opens the gateway to a truly ecological vision, when work is no longer a preoccupation. Better care for the environment will be one effect, but release from the tyranny of work will allow more sustainable, fulfilling priorities to come to the fore. Work will always have its place, but on a voluntary, fairly paid basis.
I am sure Natalie can expand on this better than me.