This post is background info necessary for the public handling of the issue by spokespersons, the press office, candidates, or anyone who expects to meet hostile questions. Anne Gray prepared a briefing more appropriate for doorstep canvassing during the election campaign. A general introduction can be found in ‘Basic Income Briefings’ on the blog ‘Pages’.
The Green Party was formed in response to the 1972 study Limits to Growth which warned that indiscriminate economic growth was unsustainable. Rather than wait for a recession to happen by accident like all previous recessions, the GP believed we should plan for a steady state economy. Any recession will cause austerity, so the Green Party has from the outset had the Basic, or Citizens’ Income as a key part of the answer. From ‘Limits to Growth’ to anti-austerity is a natural development, but we must not lose sight of the original raison d’être. We are not just Anti-Austerity’.
The Basic Income allows people not to work, but it removes the work disincentive created by the withdrawal of means tested benefits. But this was the intended purpose of the Universal Credit, and this is no coincidence. The UC first appeared in Dynamic Benefits: towards Welfare that works. Search for centreforsocialjustice.org.uk, a Think Tank set up by Iain Duncan Smith, click ‘Publications’ and scroll back to September 2009. The first part is an excellent chapter and verse account, with graphs showing the withdrawal of benefits as though they were taxes.
Dynamic Benefits cannot be bettered as the case for the Basic Income
The rest of the report avoids that conclusion, and Iain Duncan Smith has been allowed to get away with his ‘scrounger’ mantra. Even Rachel Reeves and Miliband accepted it. This opens up a massive opportunity which the Green Party should be exploiting: the first part of a report produced by one of our worst enemies.
A Guardian article (Patrick Wintour, 28th January) claimed that the Basic Income would make some low income families worse off. Malcolm Torry, published an immediate rebuttal on the Citizens’ Income Trust website. He was extremely upset to find that an apparently friendly telephone conversation with Patrick Wintour had been twisted. The article contained no outright lies, but was maliciously misleading. The GP scheme was not yet published. The CIT scheme was vulnerable to the ‘Euromod’ findings, but although some low income families would be worse off, this was much less extensive than implied, and would mostly be transient, because the flexibility introduced by the BI would make it much easier to make up the difference. Tax Credits, which do already partially alleviate the benefits trap, will make the introduction of the Basic Income messy, but not insuperable. The post-election budget removal of Tax Credits will remove the ‘Euromod’ difficulty, at the cost of re-introducing a sever work disincentive. See the CIT website for more details.
Although Dynamic Benefits is a gold mine for us, its origin is shown by its mean spirited recommendation, and it completely ignores the ‘Euromod’ findings. They were true in 2009, and undermine the ‘Scroungers are better off on benefits’ claim at least as much as they complicate the Basic Income scheme.
This links up with The cost. Insisting on figures first puts the cart before the horse. Quite apart from mismanagement, the UC was ill suited to a regime of compulsion, – sanctions and workfare – but above all it tried to remove the benefits trap on the cheap. The UC has a claw-back rate of 65%, so that someone losing it would pay the equivalent of a tax rate higher than a banker on bonus. The BI reduces inequality, so it will cost the better off something. The slogan to go with a comparison of the BI and the UC is:
Persuasion is better than Force
All the BI does is ensure that everyone from the unemployed up to the bankers are on the same footing. It is fair. Even those who will pay more on balance will come to accept this as a price worth paying for a sustainable future, but there are two groups we should be using the BI to target now: anyone on or at risk of being on benefits, or threatened with sanctions, workfare, or a Work Capability Assessment, and small business entrepreneurs. The Living Wage assumes that the BI is not imminent, but mention of it should be followed by “until the BI is fully in operation”. The droves who voted Green in 1989 could be persuaded again.
At the moment we have the worst of all worlds. In so far as the public is aware of what should be the cornerstone of any anti-austerity policy, it is perceived as ill thought out, so whoever is offering it must be stupid. Attacks were to be expected when we featured the Basic Income, but once conference had passed a motion to do this, the only strategy open to the Green Party is to get it at our collective fingertips, and push it at every opportunity. Opponents will use it because they think it is a weakness. We cannot afford to waste these opportunities. A mention of the BI should be triggered by all the following:
Any mention of the Universal Credit, or Tax Credits
Any pontification by bishops about poverty
Benefit Sanctions, Workfare, Work Capability Assessments, or any mention of Maximus, the appalling company willing to take on the work which even ATOS found too nasty to handle, including suicides as a result.
Increases in the personal tax allowance
The spectre of world wide automation
There is a movement for a Europe wide Basic Income, which would reduce the pressure to emigrate from poorer countries. Philippe van Parijs has published a scheme for Greece.
A Basic Income will facilitate start-ups of new enterprises. But it does so by allowing them to offer lower wages to begin with. A Living Wage can be implemented more quickly than the Basic Income, but it must be linked to the caveat “Until the Basic income is established”. When it is, no one has to take a job, but businesses can exist which could not if they must pay a fixed amount. Businesses which do not come into existence do not offer jobs.
Further background briefing is available in posts on 11.4.13, 17.4.13, 25.4.13, 12.9.14, and 30.11.14, which were briefings offered to Natalie for media interviews. Recent posts also contain relevant material. 1.2.15 was a response to the Patrick Wintour Guardian article..
There are several books on the general principle, for example by Malcolm Torry (Citizens’ Income Trust), and Phillippe van Parijs, who has published a Basic Income scheme appropriate for Greece, but so far as I know, my own: The Citizens Income and Green Economics, published by the Green Economic Institute is the only one which links the BI to Green issues.
I have mentioned no figures. They are available, but we can get across to the public two simple ideas: that those coming off benefits lose more than bankers, and that less inequality is essential if we are to halt environmental damage. The BI could, like the fall of the Berlin Wall, Nelson Mandela, and not smoking in public happen much sooner than anyone expected. And the Green Party will have started the culture shift necessary for a sustainable society.