Personal responsibilty – or is the system to blame?

The Moral Maze (BBC Radio 4, 17,2,2019) grapples with this in the context of CV19, but the discussion returns more than once to the choices open to the affluent, as compared with those constrained by poverty. (The programme will remain avaIlable for a year).

For me, the unconditional basic income (UBI) should have been central. But it was not mentioned.

The Panellists were Melanie Phillips, of the Times, Matthew Taylor, CEO of the Royal Society f the Arts, Andrew Doyle (Comedian) and Ash Sarkar (Journalist and left-wing activist). In the past I have bridled against Melanie Phillips’ emphasis on personal responsibility, but the universal basic income (UBI) reduces the difference in lifestyle choices available as between rich and poor, so that  in this discussion  Mrs. Phillips’ point of view could have made sense – if she had used it..

I admit there is a paradox. Anyone hearing of the UBI for the first time is likely to see it, and reject it as a handout to the idle, but as an alternative to means testing, a UBI has the opposite effect. Means testing – of basic necessities – has the effect of a disguised tax on low incomes, Universal Credit was intended to reduce, (but not remove) this effect, but the UC has been much criticised for failing to do so.

Per se, the UBI is dangerous because it could indeed operate as a handout available for spending. aka consumerism. But tied firmly to the ecological threat, the security provided by the UBI can be paired with ‘ecological footprint’ taxes to bring the economy within what the ecosphere can bear. Bear in mind that these taxes may have to be much more swingeing than if they had been introduced in 1972, when an international conference on the problem was held.

In the context of CV19, a UBI will allow the obvious medical imperative to be paramount. The discussion did return several times to the dilemma of going to work leading to greater risk. Indeed the most natural point in the Moral Maze discussion was when Ash Sarkar suggested that the answer to the risk posed by going to work was: “A government policy to pay people to stay at home” As she did not mention the UBI. I assume Ms Sarkar is unaware of it, so she is unlikely to have been aware of the all party motion already before Parliamnt..

But my biggest disappointment was that Matthew Taylor, CEO of the RSA did not mention the UBI. The RSA does actually have the UBI  in its repertoire.. Perhaps the programme series operates ground rules of which I am unaware. Pity.

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