Natalie on the Citizen’s Income: so near and yet so far

I should be pleased that Natalie Bennett mentioned Citizens’ Income in her Green Party conference speech, but she later spoiled it a bit.
I thought calling it Universal Income was a master stroke when I read that we were going to feature the Citizens’ Income in the 2015 Election Manifesto.
That wasn’t my idea. That was a journalist’s gloss.
But it positions us to go for Iain Duncan Smith’s jugular. ‘Dynamic Benefits: towards Welfare that works’ is supposed to be the basis of his odious welfare reforms, and introduces the Universal Credit, but the first part is actually a powerful statement of the case for the Citizens’ Income, with graphs showing the withdrawal of means tested benefits as the vicious tax it is in all but name.
Natalie: Nobody has heard of ‘Dynamic Benefits’, and Iain Duncan Smith is a laughing stock.
Me: That may well be true, but the fact remains that the entire Labour Party, as well as the Lib Dems, have bought his anti-scrounger agenda. There is a massive opportunity being missed.
Natalie: People would just get confused by the similar names.
By this time somebody else wanted to talk to her, and my fears were already confirmed. To be fair, Natalie has taken on board some things I have badgered her with. Rightly or not, I think the Cits BI featuring at all is at least partly the result of my being such a nuisance.
At a previous conference when I had the opportunity to spend 10 minutes with her Natalie explained that her personal views were neither here nor there: as Leader she had to reflect the views of the Party. Her Conference speech this weekend was an appeal to disaffected Labour and Lib Dems, who already form a large part of the recent increase in membership. Not one of the first time conference attenders I spoke to knew the correct answer to the question “Why do you think the Green Party was founded?” (It was a response to the MIT ‘Limits to Growth’ report)
Again, to be fair, a straightforward statement of the urgency of averting an ecological collapse is no sort of message to win votes with a public that still knows of no alternative to economic growth as the answer to austerity. This is why I keep banging on about the Citizen Basic Income. Nobody has come up with a better idea for making a recession thinkable.
But personal or not, Natalie expresses what seems to me to be a very ‘Old Labour’ view. This includes her attitude to the Citizens’ BI. She fails my ‘Zero hours contracts’ test. She is against them, full stop. Against the background of workfare and the widespread and increasing use of benefit sanctions, zero hours contracts are an obscene form of slavery. But in the ‘persuasion is better than force’ atmosphere that a Cits BI would introduce, the claptrap uttered by Esther McVey and Lord Fraud (zero hours contracts suit some people such as students) would actually be true. This is just one example of ‘right wing’ ideas which are rightly condemned in the absence of a CBI, but which make sense with it. But Natalie is a socialist.
This is so infuriating. If the Citizens’ Income had stayed in the long grass for a 42nd year. I would have remained frozen in disappointment. But to see it featured at half cock is unbearable. I gather that the Party line will be based on the Citizens Income Trust figures, i.e. Jobseekers Allowance to everyone, rounded up a bit, I agree with that being the GP’s main manifesto pledge, even though it would leave a massive area of means testing untouched over housing costs. Its virtue is that it can be presented as having minimal effect on taxation.
But what will be missing is the longer term aspiration once people have grasped the principle: the complete abolition of means testing, and the removal of any form of work compulsion, because everyone being better off working than not working will be a sufficient incentive. Also, some right wing ideas will become reasonable, and some former Conservative voters will see that the Citizens’ Income with higher taxes is fairer than both what IDS is doing, and also the means testing he is getting rid of. For the more intelligent among them, it will be a price worth paying to preserve a world fit for their grandchildren.
But that is for the longer term. For now, I can settle for selling the Citizens’ Basic Income as redistributive. The Citizens’ Income Trust version is only slightly redistributive, but the more radical version which I would prefer, although harder to sell, would be thoroughly in tune with Natalie’s ideals.
Many, even within the Green Party have surprising difficulty in understanding the concept that withdrawal of means tested benefits is a disguised tax. Such people must never have had to claim benefits. Instead of the usual Old Labour mantrtas, try telling places such as Barnsley and Middlesrough, where Iain Duncan Smith is doing his worst. They will immediately grasp the point. Natalie, it is your job to tell the world, or at least the British electorate the explosive facts kindly assembled for us by our worst enemies in ‘Dynamic Benefits’ (Published Sept 2009). The ‘anti-scrounger’ mantra is preposterous, and the Green Party can demolish it.

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