Feasibility Study: Will the public support a basic income pilot?

Previously we looked at what a feasibility study is, and what it is trying to achieve, as well as examining the likelihood of a pilot gaining political support. In this instalment we consider how we can create popular demand for a pilot.

Dr Benjamin Simmons, Citizen’s Basic Income Network Scotland Trustee @vforfive

There is little hope for the success of a basic income pilot if there is no public appetite for the project. The pilots will become a stick to beat the government with regardless of results on the ground. For example, the recent cancellation of the Ontario pilot by a conservative government (who had previously pledged to maintain the scheme) shows us that unless politicians see basic income as a popular policy it will always be under threat. The feasibility studies currently underway need to determine whether public support for a basic income pilot is likely, and why.

It is a piece of work which we are delighted to support. CBINS was established to educate the public about basic income so that people can make an informed decision about whether or not they support it. Obviously we are not impartial, because we believe the benefits to society would be vast, and that it would do a great deal towards reducing a variety of social problems, such as health inequality, gender inequality and the changing nature of work.

To accomplish our goal we are embarking on a series of public meetups and have plans in the pipeline to train advocates across Scotland. We’re currently looking for volunteers to help us accomplish this so if you would like to know more you can check out these opportunities here.

A fundamental issue is that basic income is a simple idea which can be easily misunderstood. And, undoubtedly, a basic income poorly implemented would fail to achieve its goals. For example, a basic income set so low that people cannot survive on it would allow employers to set very unattractive employment terms, and workers would not be able to refuse them. However, at a level sufficient for workers to refuse work if the conditions are too poor we would see wages rise and working conditions improve, since the power imbalance between employers and employees rebalances in the employees favour. Trade Unions are very interested in this question.

Similarly, concerns are often expressed about the lack of incentive to work. The theory is that without the hardship associated with unemployment there will be no-one to mop floors or man checkouts. Quite aside from the clear class bigotry at play here (as well as the old prejudice against an ‘undeserving poor’) this attitude has been around forever, formalised in the despised Poor Laws of 1834 which forced people into the dreadful conditions of the workhouse and inspired Oliver Twist. Despite being a beloved book, musical and film it seems many people missed the central message.

Anyone who has spent any time unemployed can vouch for the crushing hopelessness and lack of self-worth it brings. If daytime TV was any good it would be on at night. Work provides many of us with a sense of purpose; it is where we meet our friends and partners, it is why we get up in the morning. The idea that people are by default desperate for inactivity, deterred only by the agony of poverty, is offensive and speaks volumes about the person making that assertion. Furthermore, the focus on paid work as the moral obligation of every citizen ignores the vast amount of unpaid work, such as care, that is carried out every day, particularly by women.

There are many arguments for and against basic income and this is not the article to cover them all, but making the positive case for basic income and challenging the cynical views of human nature behind a lot of the counter-arguments is why we’re here. If you’d like to help us we’re always looking for volunteers and we would love to hear from you. More than anything we need the design of a social program, which would affect us all, to be informed by the lived reality of citizens rather than by political ideologies.

It isn’t just the public that need to be convinced about basic income. Next we will look at whether support from institutions such as HMRC, DWP, and the Treasury can be achieved.

See our previous posts in this series:

What is the feasibility study?

Can it gain political support?


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