The Basic Income is as vital now as it was in the election. Anti austerity demos are planned, with a big one on 20th June. But without the Basic Income, the message is ‘Put the Clock back’. Sorry, the anti-scroungers have won that argument. Rachel Reeves, who would have seamlessly taken over from Iain Duncan Smith, Ed Miliband, and now Andy Burnham, Labour leadership contender, all agree that the workshy are a problem. So although the speeches will say “End Benefit Sanctions, Workfare, the Bedroom Tax and Work Capability Assessments”, all the public on buses going past these demos will hear is “Give us back our Scroungers’ Charter”.
I know this is an utterly false view of the facts, and a travesty of the hurt and distress felt by those demonstrating, but there is a sound reason why scrounger demonization is the dominant view. Iain Duncan Smith was right in one respect:
Means testing is wrong in principle, and must be removed
This did not matter as long as economic growth, and somewhere near full employment could be relied on as the norm. Lady Rhys Williams’ predictions in 1944 that means testing was a serious structural flaw in the Beveridge Report proposals did not come true for 50 years.
But there are two diametrically opposite ways of removing means testing, either just remove benefits, or give them to everybody, and pay for whatever that costs in taxation. One variation on that is that whenever the economy is functioning at a lower level than it could sustainably function, the taxation can be reduced.
The government adopted the first course when it launched the benefit sanctions regime in October 2012. In tandem with this tightening, it became necessary to plug the possible escape route of disability, hence Work Capability Assessments. These are of course carried out by lay assessors – medically qualified staff would fail to meet their (denied) quotas. Once again I recommend Johnny Void’s blog for chapter and verse on the depths to which the Department of Work and Pensions has sunk in implementing a policy of stripping the vulnerable of benefits.
It would have been far easier as part of the election campaign, but if, better late than never, the Basic, Citizens’ Income can become an integral part of the anti-austerity protest, it could still be crucial in delivering the coup de grâce to the Universal Credit.
I have signally failed to persuade the Green Party to look at the report which invented the Universal Credit: Dynamic Benefits: towards Welfare that works. Why should they? It was produced in September 2009 by the Centre for Social Justice, a Think Tank set up by Iain Duncan Smith. But the Green Party leadership, and Press Office, all fail to see the importance of means testing. Blanket opposition to Zero hours contracts demonstrates this failure. Once upon a time, zero hours contracts were a suitable option for some employees. Suddenly, in October 2012, they became an instrument of slavery, an integral part of IDS’s strategy for abolishing benefits. It is the imposition of the benefit sanctions regime which is the problem. Once compulsion is replaced by persuasion – the Basic Income – zero hours contracts will again be what they have always been- a useful option for some, particularly appropriate in a sustainable economy.
Dynamic Benefits is a thorough account of just how serious a problem means testing is. It is an excellent, even though unintended statement of the case for the Basic income. But in practice IDS is simply removing benefits. In theory, this was to be underpinned by the Universal Credit, which would allow claimants to retain 35% of their former benefits on getting a job. But the UC has not happened. The Civil Service could have been planning since the 2010 election, yet barely 0.5% of the over two million who should have qualified for the UC actually receive it. It remains beset by insuperable practical problems, and its collapse can only be a matter of time. The Basic Income as part of the anti-austerity campaign could determine how soon this happens.
The UC was supposed to ‘make work pay’. But this is one of the purposes of the Basic, Citizens’ Income. Critics of the latter have pointed out that Tax Credits will complicate its introduction, but the problems are minimal as compared with those facing the UC. But even if the UC had worked, that 35% benefit retention would have actually meant a tax rate equivalent of 65% (Incidentally, Dynamic Benefits only suggested a 45% – 55% ratio). The main problem with the Basic Income is said to be the cost. It is affordable, but it will cost the better off whatever it costs to put claimants losing benefits on the same level field as bankers on the top tax rate of 45%.
Of course to include the Basic Income in the anti-austerity campaign needs two other allies: the media, and Parliament. Dynamic Benefits has made it easy to offer the media a story they should find newsworthy. The same should also apply in Parliament. Caroline Lucas has said that she will press for the Basic Income when detailed figures are available. There is no need to wait, and this is urgent, to discredit the UC. Those graphs in Dynamic Benefits do all the donkey work explaining how the Basic Income would work, without the problems preventing the UC. In passing, Dynamic is dishonest in its claim that nearly all claimants are better off on benefits than working. Tax Credits complicate the picture for the UC as well as the BI, but Dynamic just ignores them. But there are 56 new Scottish kids on the Parliamentary block. It may not be plain sailing. I don’t think Natalie has told Nicola how important the Basic Income is. We all saw those images of the three anti-austerity party leaders embracing after the 7-way debate, but not one of them mentioned the Basic Income. But I am in contact with Natalie McGarry, the SNP member who has been given the Welfare & Disability brief. Hope springs eternal.