Basic Income v Universal Credit (the end of means testing?)

Headline : (Metro, 15th May). ‘Housing Benefit cuts start to bite’. Charities warn that 11.000 tenants have been evicted in three months due to capped benefits. A major battle now is to finally discredit the Universal Credit, and Iain Duncan Smith’s nasty benefit sanctions and workfare regime.

The Green Party should have started this process as soon as Conference passed a motion that the Basic Income must feature in the 2015 election campaign. The ‘Launch’ was a disaster because no one in a key position appears to have much grasp of the Basic Income, and the long list of news items which should trigger opportunities to highlight it, especially any mention of the Universal Credit. That failure is spilt milk, but the job which could have had a major impact in the campaign still needs to be done. Scrounger demonization remains rampant, acquiesced in by the Labour Party. The Universal Credit is still supposed to be the government’s way of ‘making work pay’, and we are promised a further £12 Billion attack on the desperate and vulnerable.

Ha anyone in the Green Party office any idea what I am talking about? I am under the impression that no one in the Press Office has, and I Briefed Natalie Bennett two years ago with enough material to use that ‘car crash’ Andrew Neil interview in March to game changing effect. It is of course all in my blog, but I can give the presentation I gave in Leeds in December 2014 to anyone willing to learn. I was told that links would appear in the Activist’s Mail, but if so I did not see them, and neither did anyone else judging by the number of hits.

Some insist on detailed figures before broaching the topic. Figures are available for the first phase of an introduction – a Basic Income at JobSeekers Allowance level. But that is not necessary to compare the Universal Credit with the Basic Income. The donkey work was done for Iain Duncan Smith in Dynamic Benefits (Publications, September 2009). One purpose of both is the same: to prevent means tested benefits from creating a work disincentive, but

Cuts in welfare only make sense because benefits are means tested.

Means testing is wrong in principle, and should be abolished. There are two ways of removing means tested benefits, either just remove them, as this government is doing – or give them to everybody and pay for it by various forms of taxation. There is extensive literature on a Basic income from a world-wide movement, but you either grasp this logical argument or you don’t. Figures come later.

The Bedroom Tax is a particularly egregious example of a  benefit cut, which the Labour Party only belatedly saw any problem with. Tax Credits partially alleviate the poverty trap, but they do nothing to remove the anti-scrounger mentality which means testing causes. If the Universal Credit did work, it would also slightly alleviate the effect of means testing. But the government have had five years, nearly six since Dynamic Benefits first proposed the Universal Credit in September 2009. It remains beset by a long list of unsolved problems due to the fact that it is mean, with a claw back rate of 65%.This does not arise with the Basic Income, whose only problem is that it is frankly and unashamedly redistributive from rich to poor. Persuasion is better than force.

Overall, the Green Party’s performance is seen as creditable, and apart from having thrown away what should have been the Ace in her pack Natalie performed well, as I can attest from doorstepping. But apart from Shahrar Ali’s speech to the last Green Party conference, threats to the global environment have only been mentioned in passing. I am aware of no serious attempt to link them with inequality. Natalie conspicuously  failed to mention the Basic Income in her conference speech.

This assault on the Department of Work and Pensions is critical. The Green Party’s failure to understand what should be central to any anti-austerity policy is shown by the Party’s wrong answer to Zero hours contracts. These have been around for years. They only became an excuse for serious exploitation in October 2012. Does anyone  responsible for Green Party publicity  know what happened then? Perhaps now the election is over, Natalie will find time to do as I asked her, and study the Basic Income, but to make it easy, the answer to the last question is that Zero hours contracts were suddenly backed up by a harsh regime of benefit sanctions.

Means testing

is the problem, not Zero hours contracts per se.

As the Zero hours contract issue shows, although the Basic income is highly redistributive, it actually makes sense of some dreadfully right wing ideas which are indeed oppressive if you have not thought of the Basic Income. But austerity has led to polarization on both sides. The Basic income can be the beginning of a much needed conciliatory culture shift. Does Natalie feel capable of really understanding the Basic Income? If not, perhaps Shahrar Ali will?

One response to “Basic Income v Universal Credit (the end of means testing?)

  1. Pingback: Universal Basic Income: How the Labour Party Could Stand Up for Workers, Help the Poor AND be Pro-Business | Gold Against The Soul·

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