How Frank field MP could further the Basic Income

Frank Field MP, Chair of the influential Parliamentary Work & Pensions Select Committee, started out as a prominent anti-poverty campaigner. But it transpires he is opposed to the Basic Income.

On 12th January 2017 the Select Committee heard evidence from the basic Income movement.

Mr. Field’s assessment was:

“A universal Citizen’s Income would either require unthinkable tax rises or fail to deliver its objectives of simplification and a guaranteed standard of living. There are problems in the welfare system, but CI is not the solution to them. Rather it is a distraction from finding workable solutions.”

Having read the transcript, that is the conclusion I would probably have reached, if I had no prior information.

But I have now discovered that three individuals had applied to give evidence to the Committee hearing, one of whom was Malcolm Torry, Director of the Citizens Income Trust (CIT). None of them were invited. Malcolm Torry had used EUROMOD to model a limited scheme which could be rolled out immediately.

Frank Field did invite Louise Haagh, Chair of BIEN, the international body, and Annie Miller, a trustee of CIT (who had not asked to attend). The case for a Universal, unconditional Basic, or Citizens’ Income (UBI) was also passionately supported by another witness, Becca Kirkpatrick, Chair of the West Midlands Community Branch of UNISON. In fact, Ms Kirkpatrick submitted written evidence for the W&P members to peruse at their leisure.

In passing, Ms Kirkpatrick was the only speaker to link the Basic Income to ecological sustainability. This is of course absolutely crucial, but not strictly relevant to the W&P Committee’s remit.

Being wise after the event, the major mistake by ‘our’ side was failing to put the discussion in the context of the problems besetting the Universal Credit (UC). These were known, but it was only later in the year that how serious they were was picked up by the media and the public.

That this omission was serious became obvious in Mhairi Black’s speech in the Parliamentary debate on the UC on 18th October 2017. She welcomed the original purpose of the Universal Credit, which was to get rid of the pernicious effect of means testing.

It would do so only marginally. I have tried to persuade Caroline Lucas how Dynamic Benefits, which sets out the case for the Universal Credit, could be used to far better effect as the case for the Basic income, but as I was unsuccessful, she saw no point in alerting Ms Black to this missed opportunity.

But not only did Ms Black not make the connection between the UC and the UBI, she must have been unaware of Malcolm Torry’s work for the CIT. Had she known, she would have pointed out that at a cost of £2.79Bn, we could have a system which would take some off means tested benefits entirely, and reduce them for many more. The cost of the problem-stricken Universal Credit (UC) was stated to be £15.8Bn in 2015.

The CIT scheme was mentioned by Louise Haagh, but as Malcolm Torry was not there to present it in written form, its significance seemingly did not impinge on Ms Black.

Although the CIT Basic income would fall a long way short of my goal – to allow everybody, everywhere to stop trashing the ecosphere, it would bring about that vital first step of demonstrating to the whole population the malign effect of means testing and sanctions.

To be honest, I am not really gunning for Frank Field. I just want someone who gets more publicity than I do to relay my message. But I would ask Frank my usual question to sceptics: what exactly are you in favour of? As an anti-poverty campaigner we can rule out him suggesting no benefits, in which case he must see no problem with means testing. Frank thinks everybody should work. I think the vast majority will realize they are better off working.

Once you are forced to the Basic income as the logical conclusion, the big question is how much? Malcolm Torry has shown the way: a scheme cheaper than the failed Universal Credit to reduce, then eliminate means testing at first; then one which will enable everyone (world wide) to think of not trashing the planet as soon as possible.

Ms Black could have totally transformed the debate, not just in Parliament, but generally.

She still can.



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