Basic (Citizens’) Income core briefing.

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

Food Banks

Any pontification by bishops about poverty

Unemployment figures

Youth unemployment

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.

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4 responses to “Basic (Citizens’) Income core briefing.

  1. From a recent article in the spectator:
    ” But their [The Green Party] proposal for a guaranteed basic income, derided by almost every-one, may not be quite the left-wing idea it is assumed to be. Previous supporters of the principle include Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman and Richard Nixon. In many ways, a guaranteed basic income is the kind of welfare which should appeal most to conservatives, since it does not incentivise bad behaviour, it is impossible to ‘game’ and it does not encourage people to exaggerate their own misfortunes (something which generally drives right-wing folk crazy).” http://www.spectator.co.uk/life/the-wiki-man/9467972/how-to-make-ukip-supporters-love-green-policies/

  2. I have either the good fortune, or the misfortune, to be somebody who lives their life online. This means I am able to spend a lot of time gathering information and debating with people who are of varying political persuasions from a number of continents.

    One such group of individuals are the Tea Party far right Republican Libertarians in the U.S. These people operate as paid shills online in the You Tube and Twitter communities, and call themselves handy little names like Cardinal Virtues or names that represent themselves as rebels or lovers of Freidrich von Hayak. They do indeed advocate a form of universal minimum income which they describe as a negative income tax.

    As most people know there is one fundamental difference between a left wing Libertarian, or anarchist, and a right wing Libertarian, or Tea Party supporter, and that specific difference was identified by Errico Maletesta in his book Anarchy. The continued ownership of real property and the means of production are pivotal in how the system works once government control and regulation has been removed. In the right wing ideology they continue to be the property of the rich people who own them and this ends in a situation which Maletesta simply called theft, and Rousseau in his Social Contract described as the Tyranny of Freedom. In the left wing ideology Libertarianism is the removal of government control when property is shared, in the communist model. I am a proponent of neither of these extreme positions.

    In much the same way there is one difference of note between the right wing position for negative taxes, and the left wing position of universal minimum income. That is the level at which the payment is set.

    The Tea Party advocates I have past debated this with, employees of the Republican Party, have said they believe that the payment should replace welfare (social security), lead to the removal of the minimum wage, and be set at around $30 (£15) per week. This figure will provide an extra amount of pocket money for those who earn enough, but will do nothing to support an unemployed person; rather it will act as a supplement to slave labour rate wages. It is in fact a position which leads to the support of state monies for employment of people by large corporations, with no choice as to whether they take such employment at low rates with the minimum wage being removed. State acting with and for corporations is the political economic model of fascism.

    Of course I have also had debate with people from the left who have seen the Positive Money site and realise that we can make money as we wish; they have argued that we should set the rate at £500 per week. They don’t seem to realise that whilst Positive Money is right in what it says, is isn’t the full economic picture, and the saying we can make money as we need, doesn’t mean we should make money as we want without regard to the effect. Often they are communists and are attempting to create a situation of total equality with a monetary method which cannot work.

    The difference in rate can be seen as akin to the difference in rates of Speenhamland payments at a time when the Acts of Settlement were still in force and rates could vary from town to town. It has been argued that Speenhamland was set too low and merely allowed employers to pay less, and it has also been argued, more often contemporaneously by writers at the time, that it was a layabouts payment and set too high. It did work well in some places, and I think it pertinent to point out that it was at a time when the industrial revolution was taking off and the nature of employment was changing; as it is now when the technological revolution is increasing the abilities of robots and computers.

    The UMI set at a figure which uses the mineral and technological wealth of the state to allow the citizens of the state to both live and survive and take an active part in society and the economy, is an egalitarian position. Egalitarian in that such use of state wealth to allow participation is the definition of egalitarianism, and in the broader sense in that it tends towards equity and equality. Under such a situation the UMI would replace social security, it would mean the removal of the minimum wage, but crucially it would be set at around £80 per week (The Scottish Green Party figure is £100 per week and also reasonable). This last part is crucial. This amount should allow survival. It means when you seek employment and a contract is formed it will be formed correctly with both parties being able to negotiate on a more equal basis. Egalitarianism is on the left of the political economic spectrum; not the far left but certainly the left.

    I of course agree wholeheartedly with what you have said here Clive about the Basic Income (which I believe is what it is being called now by the party) being invaluable to the party in gaining support, as well as being the correct choice of political economic models, and in line with the parties ethos.

    The question I often ask is why a we should be frightened of people complaining that such policies are left wing? We live in a time when the rich have more money than they could ever spend, and the poor, including those who work long hours, are starving and needing to visit food banks. Surely the party should proudly point this out, explain that left wing simply means having policies which will favour the poor, and that it benefits neither humanity nor the economy to do anything but that?

    The country is in fact crying out for a left wing party to represent the 87-88% of society which are living hand to mouth or worse under the current system and the desire for such a party is demonstrated every election when the other political parties clothe themselves in the garb of the left to gain votes. If they do it falsely to get votes, why do the Green Party seem so fearful of doing it honestly?

    Sadly I feel such policies are put on the back burner because the party itself is led by people who have no daily contact with the hardships which are befalling the majority of British people. More than that, the policy discussion boards are filled with right wing people who do not reflect the position of the majority of the Party, yet do all they can on a daily basis to disdain and silence anyone who speaks for policies which will help the poor.

    To my mind there is no group more vulnerable, more discriminated against, and more publicly hated and humiliated for something beyond their own control than the poor, and yet this public mistreatment seems to be allowed by those who claim to be caring when discrimination against any other group would be swiftly dealt with.

    • My reply must inevitably repeat material which is already in my blog posts somewhere. I see the UBI, CI, guaranteed minimum income (I don’t care about the name), as potentially unifying left and right. Not the Tea Party or the hard left, but they will be increasingly isolated. But neither side is ready for that yet. Naturally the recession which started in 2008 and which is still being used as a pretext only sharpens hostilities. Infuriatingly and possibly tragically that is because neither side yet grasps the Basic Income concept. Rachel Reeves is shoulder to shoulder with Iain Duncan Smith blaming the unemployed, whilst Johnny Void, a rich source of appalling material for my blog, urges Class War.
      The $15 or £500 debate is resolved by the ecological aspect: it has to be enough for any individual not to need to do anything to harm the ecosphere, but no more than that. Anything you earn tops that up.
      We have to be ‘left’. If the ecosystem is to be saved without ditching democracy, there will have to be less inequality, but the sheer nastiness of this government should make it easier to detach some of their natural supporters by the sheer fairness o the Basic Income, as compared with means testing. If only our leadership saw it that way, but they are still clearly on one side of the old divide.

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