I was already angry about the subject matter of Ken Loach’s latest film. But if the Green Party had made the Citizens’ Basic Income a key policy, ‘I, Daniel Blake’ might even have catapulted it into the next Queen’s Speech. The failure to do so is what upsets me now.
We must not lose sight of the fact that the Basic Income’s main purpose is to enable a steady state economy to be a policy option, but this issue relates purely to its function as a social justice measure.
The root problem, so well set out in the report by Iain Duncan Smith’s Think Tank , Centre for Social Justice, which proposed the Universal Credit, is
Only an adequate Basic Income can comprehensively remove the work disincentive that means testing creates, and ‘make work pay’. Other schemes do move in that direction, Tax Credits for example, but the fact that they cost the taxpayer £30 Billion gives a clue that removing the poverty trap completely will involve quite hefty redistribution.
Universal Credit was this government’s intended way of dealing with means testing. But it would have cost the taxpayer next to nothing. It would have achieved this sleight of hand by allowing former claimants to retain only 35% of their former benefits on finding work. That would have been an improvement on the (still) existing means tested system, where benefit withdrawal has the effect of much larger tax equivalents on incomes least able to bear them. Would it ‘Make work pay?’ Not really, but it would have stopped a lot of people actually being worse off when they got a job.
Observant readers will have noticed the use of the subjunctive. Would have?
The benefit sanctions regime was quietly introduced in October 2012. I don’t remember any publicity, just an announcement to which my attention was drawn by individuals who knew I would be interested. Iain Duncan Smith claimed that by 2014, 2.8 million families – that is 7 million individuals – would be receiving universal Credit. The Public Accounts Committee, the Parliamentary watchdog on government spending, has produced a series of damning reports, the latest being 3rd February 2016. That report mentions the Department of work & Pensions claim that ‘final roll out’ will take place by March 2021. Don’t hold your breath. The latest figures I have seen were that 200,000 ex-claimants were actually receiving Universal Credit, all single individuals, no families.
The entire benefits sanctions regime, exposed in all its stupid nastiness by this film, should never even have started until the Universal Credit was in place. The link to the Basic income which could and should have been made was that even if (not when) the Universal Credit actually happened, it would still leave ex-claimants paying a tax equivalent of 65% – much higher than those on the highest ‘proper’ tax band of 45%.
Dynamic Benefits makes the case for the Universal Credit with a series of graphs showing different family configurations, all of which show those losing means tested benefits losing a greater proportion of their income than those on the top tax band. All the Green Party had to do was ask the simple question:
“How can those graphs be changed so that they show a straight line, so that those losing benefits lose the same proportion of their income as the rich?
Why has the Green Party, and Caroline Lucas, an MP since 2010 in particular, not used this to launch a devastating attack on benefit sanctions? I think basically it has to be to do with seeing trees rather than the wood – surprising in someone as visionary as Caroline is in so many ways. I suspect she is not really a ‘graph’ type of person. I take this opprtunity to advertise that I will visit anyone, anywhere to explain the above, maximum travel expenses £30, and a bed for the night if further from Leeds than Doncaster. My tally so far is 8 local Green Parties and a Trade Union group.
In case anyone is concerned that Dynamic Benefits is now 7 years old, the Royal Society of Arts produced a report earlier this year on the feasibility of the Basic Income. It givess updated information which is not substantially different from 2009, but even the RSA seems nervous about perceived obstacles which Dynamic Benefits unwittingly and certainly not intentionally enables us to bypass.
Oh well, all that is spilt milk. Water under the bridge.
But the link can be made now. Better late than never.