This week, we’re continuing our series of blogs covering common questions about Basic Income and its key principles. Basic Income Network Scotland volunteer Jack Perry looks at why, unlike our current benefits system, a Basic Income doesn’t require people to behave in any specific way in order to receive their payments.
You can read the rest of our blogs on FAQs here.
Why does basic income have no behavioural requirement?
A basic income is a periodic, uniform (except by age), unconditional cash payment delivered to all on an individual basis, without any behavioural requirements. By “behavioural requirements”, we mean that there are no rules about how someone should act in order to continue to receive their regular payments.
Unlike the current welfare system, there is no requirement to look for work when receiving a basic income. Likewise, people don’t need to be undertaking any other socially or economically ‘useful’ activity – such as caring, starting a business or volunteering – in order to receive a basic income. Whether someone is working, doing another ‘useful’ activity or nothing at all, they will continue to receive a basic income.
This is not to suggest that a basic income won’t cause a change in behaviour. The fact that their benefits won’t get taken away may make it financially feasible for unemployed people to take up work. The presence of an unconditional foundation may allow someone to care for an ill relative, take the risk on a business idea or give back to their community for free. However, in each instance the basic income allows people the freedom and security to make their own choices rather than forcing them to act in a certain way – there are no arbitrary rules set to determine whether they can receive their payments.
Therefore, while basic income may cause changes in behaviour, people are not required to behave in a certain way in order to receive a basic income.
What would a basic income be like if there was a behavioural requirement?
In the mid-1990s a proposal for a basic income with a behavioural requirement was developed, known as participation income. Participation income, as its founder Professor Anthony Atkinson devised it, would be paid only if someone was undertaking an activity deemed to qualify as ‘participating’. Such activities include paid work, running a business, education, training, caring and volunteering. While there are exemptions for those who physically cannot undertake these activities, those who are deemed able to undertake these activities but choose not to are not paid their participation income.
Participation income is problematic for two reasons. First, it implies that people are intrinsically selfish and need to be coerced into doing activity that serves their economy or community. In contrast, basic income suggests that people are intrinsically altruistic and, once free to do so, will pursue these activities of their own accord.
Second, on a practical level the execution of a participation income would be hugely controversial and bureaucratic. Who would decide which activities were worthy of being considered ‘participating’? And which groups of people would be considered exempt from having to participate in order to receive their participation income regardless?
Likewise, a participation income would require a whole new bureaucracy as people would have to submit forms in order to prove that, although they weren’t working, they were instead caring/volunteering/learning and so could qualify for the participation income.
Why doesn’t basic income include a work or behavioural requirement?
Basic income does not have a work or behavioural requirement because to do so would go against many of the aims that basic income is trying to achieve.
A basic income is intended to be universal, providing a solid foundation for all. If people have to act in a certain way to receive it, then it goes against that fundamental principle.
A basic income is intended to eliminate a lot of the means-testing of the current benefits system and the bureaucracy that goes with it. Including behavioural requirements would just replace that form-filling with further bureaucracy, as people try to prove they are meeting the requirements.
One of the most powerful consequences of receiving a basic income is the knowledge that a certain amount of your income is safe and secure – it will be paid to you on a weekly or monthly basis, no matter what happens. If behavioural requirements were included, then a sudden change in circumstances would mean that you could lose your basic income.
For all of these reasons and more, basic income is not dependent on any behavioural requirement.
Where can I find out more about basic income?
Jack Perry is a Basic Income Network Scotland Volunteer