This is what I hope to say in an emergency motion to the Green Party conference next weekend. The Basic Income is being described as ill thought out in the media. I have 3 minutes to explain why on the contrary it is a keystone Green policy.
There are three reasons, but two of them can stay on the back burner for now. The need perceived when the Party was formed was for something which would allow a steady state economy – what will be described as a recession – to be bearable for whole populations so that we can stop trashing the planet through indiscriminate economic growth. The second non-urgent reason is to allow former socialists and former conservatives to make friends, but neither side is ready for that yet.
But the third reason is to remove the benefits trap, the work disincentive caused by the withdrawal of means tested benefits. This is a permanent problem with means testing, but it becomes acute in times of recession. The recession we expected due to unsustainable growth has happened anyway courtesy of the bankers.
The Basic Income is an essential part of the answer to austerity.
The purpose of the Universal Credit was to make work pay. But that is exactly what the Basic Income does. I have been trying to tell anyone who will listen that the report which recommended the Universal Credit is actually an excellent statement of the case for a Basic Income. Every time the phantom Universal Credit gets a bit more adverse publicity, or any publicity at all, should be another opportunity for the Green Party to showcase the Basic Income with the slogan ‘Persuasion is better than force’.
But what will it cost? Demanding figures first is putting the cart before the horse. Read ‘Dynamic Benefits’, the report which first mentioned the Universal Credit for an explanation of why the Basic Income is needed. The Citizens’ Income Trust scheme, which is the template for ours, would be quite modest in its demands on the taxpayer. But the Basic Income is redistributive. It is fair where means testing is unjust. It will reduce inequality. To that extent it will cost the better off something.
But won’t some low income families be worse off? Tax Credits do help some, so they may have to be retained in the early stages of introducing a Basic Income. Messy, but not an insuperable problem.
I can’t explain here all the ways in which a Basic Income will start to usher in a fairer, less competitive society, where everyone is secure, but better off working than not working. There is an international Basic Income movement which is gathering momentum. Automation is making it urgent. Please, it is a fundamental part of the Green vision.
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Below is the draft text of my intended emergency motion:
Restoring the credibility of the Basic Income
On 28th January the Guardian published a damaging report that the Green Party’s Citizens’ , or Basic Income would make many low paid families worse off. Malcolm Torry, who was quoted in the Guardian as criticising the Green Party scheme, issued an immediate correction on the Citizens’ Income Trust website pointing out that the Green Party scheme was not yet published, and that the effect of the CIT scheme, on which the Green Party’s scheme was to be based, would be less serious than had been implied, and would be mostly transient.
Whilst as stated in the Guardian, Tax Credits do alleviate some effects of the withdrawal of means tested benefits, that is still a serious enough problem for Iain Duncan Smith to successfully peddle myths about benefit claimants which are true only of the tiny minority who do respond rationally to the benefits trap. The Universal Credit was intended to make working better financially than being on benefits, but even without gross mismanagement it was doomed to fail for two reasons: it is a mean spirited partial solution, with a claw-back rate of 65%, which is an effective tax rate higher than that imposed on bankers’ bonuses, and it is linked to a regime of compulsion.
The Report which recommended the Universal credit (with a claw-back rate of ‘only’ 55%) unwittingly includes an excellent statement of the case for a Universal Income, in other words, the Green Party’s Basic Income, one purpose of which is exactly the same, the removal of the benefits trap and making work pay. But that would require the courage to follow Aesop’s 4,000 year old advice that persuasion is better than force.
A new, compelling reason for a Basic income has emerged. The Financial Times has recently reported that automation is spreading in Asia, and that a consensus is emerging in Silicon Valley that even without taking the Earth’s physical limits into account an unconditional income guarantee is essential in a future where automation is likely to become much more common. Personal financial security can no longer depend reliably on conventional, full time employment.
Conference instructs the media team to brief themselves adequately on the Basic income, and urges all party members to use the foregoing to give the media a more positive image of the Citizens’ Basic Income than it has received from publicity to date, and Conference also recommends that the General Election manifesto includes a reference to automation.