Improved working conditions, Work

The Changing World Of Work

The way we work is changing. From flexible working to the gig economy, many people choose not to work a standard working week or a decades-long career. After attending the “Brain Bar” conference, happiness architect Alyona Rogozhkina details how a Basic Income would better reflect current working patterns than the current system.

Alyona Rogozhkina, Happiness architect and Founder of the happiness at work project Sonas.

I felt inspired after visiting an event called “Brain Bar” on 1-2 June in Budapest. “Brain Bar” is a new, provocative conference supported by Wired Magazine, where scientists, policy leaders and businesses get together to discuss the future. The atmosphere is usually casual with a buzz of energy, debates and innovative ideas. Since my passion is happiness at work, I aimed to attend the talks about the future of jobs, productivity, AI, and circular economy to see how these areas might change.

One of the interesting debates was called “the productivity trap”, with panellists including Melanie Seymour (the Head of BlackRock Budapest) and Andrew Taggart, a Practical Philosopher. The most fascinating topic that the panellists discussed was the outdated idea that everyone should have a job. Taggart suggested that although this principle is rooted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR),  the right to work for all would only be feasible if workers were “relatively unskilled”, and if the work was “labour-intensive” and of “short duration”.  The picture he painted was one reminiscent of the United States’ use of public programmes as a means of escaping the economic downturn of the Great Depression.

But the society we live in has moved on from the 1930s. Latest trends, like the rise of the gig economy, demonstrate that innovative workers tend to work outside of established companies. Seymour pointed out that BlackRock’s high performers are driven by incentives that are not purely financial. This, she said, is reflected in the newly implemented flexible time-off, including an allowance to go somewhere to travel for up to 3-4 weeks and get work done remotely. The reason for that, I think, is that talented individuals do not want to feel burned out or put under pressure by the often claustrophobic and stale corporate culture. The concept of stepping into an uncertain but attractive freelance career path is predicted to grow rapidly within the younger generations across the world.

Within this concept, the discussion touched Basic Income as a promising concept for future focus. Taggart provided an example of successful communities of ecovillages as a means of illustrating that living collectively can occur through an emphasis on internal economies.”  The following talk by Shamus Rae, the head of Digital Disruption at KPMG in the UK, emphasised the rising significance of Basic Income. Rae suggested that the rise of AI is transforming work from being career-focused to a relationship that is ‘connecting to work but not fully committing’. Interestingly, Rae made a point that many politicians understand the importance of implementing Basic Income but do not yet feel empowered enough to make that meaningful change happen.

Overall, I was glad to see that decision-makers from a range of industries were open-minded enough to discuss the important issues that we are all about to face in the near future. The main themes highlighted were that individuals’ needs are going to focus more on the value of work on personal development, its impact on society, and the need to seek out collaborative environments in which to work. In order to make the most of these changes, we must question how our basic needs can be better met while ensuring our intellectual curiosity is not destroyed in meaningless, monotonous or precarious work. 

If you would like to write us a blog about your experience and why you want to see a Basic Income in Scotland get in touch team@cbin.scot

CBINS News, Events

New Basic Income Event Series in Edinburgh

If a basic income is to become a reality for Scotland we need everyone to understand how it could affect their lives. As part of our work to inform the public we have recently launched a series of events to provide information about basic income, generate discussion about the issues it would transform and to empower members of the public to join the conversation.

On Wednesday 11 July at our first meet up event in Edinburgh we will ask What is a Basic Income? Our mission is to open up the conversation about Basic Income in Scotland. We believe everyone’s contribution is valuable. These events are a chance to learn about basic income, meet other engaged local people and to have your say. How could it benefit you?

A basic income would revolutionise the way we think about issues that impact everyone in Scotland. Each event in this series will explore a theme and how it would be affected by a basic income. Keep an eye out, we will soon be announcing details of the next two meet ups: “Basic Income and Entrepreneurism” and “Parenting and Basic Income”.

This first event will look at basic income through a wide lens. No prior knowledge is required; we will give a brief introduction to the past, present and future of the concept. All events in the series are free to attend. Each week a guest speaker will provide insight into an aspect of modern life that could be improved by a basic income, such as poverty, our broken welfare system, work, well-being or unpaid work. We aim to provide a platform for all kinds of speakers, not just experts in basic income. This means we want to hear your personal stories and motivations for advocating for a basic income, after all, basic income would affect all of us in a unique way. If you are interested in providing your perspective as a speaker at one of our events, or if you have a suggestion for a theme please get in touch via team@cbin.scot.

The Scottish Government is currently exploring how we could introduce Basic Income in four areas across Scotland; Edinburgh, Glasgow, North Ayrshire and Fife. Now is the time to join the discussion and shape the future of Basic Income in Scotland.

Book your ticket for our first event What is Basic Income? on Wed 11 Jul here

Basic Income Pilots, Designing a Basic Income

Basic Income Pilots – What are they and what do you need to know?

If a basic income pilot is implemented in Scotland the public will need to be kept up to date on the details, the motivation, and the results of the study. Here are some things to consider when you’re deciding whether you support a basic income pilot in principle, and whether you think it has been a success.

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

I have been pleasantly surprised that the recent coverage of the decision of the Finnish Government to allow the basic income pilot to come to an end at the time agreed at the outset of the project has generally been accurately reported, though it would have been nice to avoid misleading headlines about ‘scrapping’ the pilot or the government having ‘given up’. For many people this may lead them to believe that the basic income pilot has been a failure, and with four local authorities in Scotland at an early stage of discussing what a pilot here might look like it is important that we’re realistic about the limitations of the Finnish project and any implications for a Scottish pilot.

Before we go any further it is worth pointing out that as far back as June 2017 the Finnish team leading the project were describing the implementation of the project as a ‘nightmare’ and politicians ‘blowing hot and cold’, so it isn’t really shocking to see that additional funding has not been forthcoming. Nor has the decision been evidence-based, as the decision was taken at the outset of the project not to investigate the impact on the lives of the people in the pilot until 2019.

Research design in the social sciences is tricky enough in an academic environment, so it is easy to understand how implementing an expensive pilot in the real world with very real impacts on the lived reality of individuals is as ambitious as it is difficult. Add to that a frequently partisan media on all sides and the potential for the story of a single individual’s experience to be framed as representative of all recipients and it becomes clear that it is going to require a monumental sustained effort to both kick off a pilot and sail into the media wind until it is completed.

So if a basic income pilot is implemented in Scotland the public will need to be kept up to date on the details, the motivation, and the results of the study. This means being honest about the constraints of a pilot scheme and encouraging people to make up their own mind. Here are some things to consider when you’re deciding whether you support a basic income pilot in principle, and whether you think it has been a success:

What does success look like?

Determining the success or failure of an initiative means deciding up front what you hope the project will achieve. It sounds obvious but a good example of this is that I am frequently asked whether a basic income would save money overall. One of the many potential benefits of a basic income is a reduction of what is called ‘failure demand’. For example, by saving money by reducing welfare payments you create endemic health problems which are expensive for the NHS to treat. A comparable example is the research in Australia showing it is cheaper to house the homeless than to treat the consequences of homelessness in demand for government services.

With that in mind it is no surprise that NHS Health Scotland is playing a key role in developing an evaluation framework for a possible pilot scheme in Scotland. We can confidently predict that alleviating a major cause (poverty) of contemporary social problems (health, crime, educational attainment) will lead to a reduction in the occurrence of those problems and therefore the costs associated with them. Could there be a net saving? Of course. But it could also cost more, and you need to decide for yourself whether it is acceptable to spend more overall to make a massive impact on the quality of life for the 940,000 people living in poverty in Scotland. That is without counting the benefit to society of shorter NHS waiting times or reduced crime generally, or the difficult-to-financially-quantify value of increased gender equality and reduced financial abuse of women in Scotland, or ability of young people from low-income families to pursue further education. For example, I’ve previously written about why we might want to see a rise in divorce, which was reportedly a source of anxiety for the Nixon administration when they were considering basic income.

The Finnish experiment focused only on a specific group, the unemployed, on the basis of the centre-right government’s desire to reduce the unemployment rate. Since we don’t know the results yet we don’t know what the impact here has been, but since the most common objection to the idea of a basic income is that it would encourage laziness it isn’t surprising that this was where the conservative government chose to focus. Of course, the causes of unemployment are complex and different for each individual, and with a major focus on the possibility for people to use a basic income to retrain and return to education the impact of a basic income on someone in unemployment is likely to be significant over a longer period of time rather than causing all job-seekers to take up zero-hours work in a supermarket (it is worth discussing whether this is even desirable). It is thinking like this which is behind the RSA’s recent proposals for a ‘Basic Opportunity Fund’. If the Finnish government really wanted to know the impact of a basic income on work they could also have given it to people currently in work to see if it causes people to drop out of the labour market. If the premise that people don’t work without the threat of poverty is true, surely this would be the best way to test it?

If your criterion for deciding if you are in favour of a basic income pilot is whether it has saved money, then for you the pilot has already failed. Why? Because…

Pilot schemes are not reality

A basic income is such a fundamental restructuring of the welfare state that it is impossible to simulate perfectly how it would function in a reinvented national model by providing a small group of people with some additional income whilst changing nothing else. For example, it would be unfair and harmful to simulate a basic income in a town by increasing taxes on the wealthiest to simulate a higher tax rate. At the same time, someone receiving a basic income in a pilot would possibly pay tax on their earnings at a lower rate (i.e. current rates) than if the programme was implemented nationally and tax restructured accordingly. Consider also how the effects on a community’s economy would be different if they were the only town in the county to receive a basic income, than if a basic income was nationally implemented. Of course businesses are going to choose to set up in a town where people now have more disposable income, but the impact on an individual town will be greater when they have this advantage over the towns around them, which would not be the case in a national model. These are just a couple of examples of the many ways pilots do not represent reality.

A basic income pilot would be an investigation into how a basic income affects the lives and choices of recipients and will necessarily be more expensive in the short term than not doing a pilot, since it would simulate greater welfare spending without increasing taxation elsewhere to fund it. So let’s make that clear from the outset (and be prepared to articulate that to a sceptical press).

But that’s not to say pilots are not useful. An abundance of useful data on individual and group outcomes will be gathered, and things like health outcome improvements can be used to predict future trends, however, we must acknowledge when evaluating a pilot that…

The data does not stop when the pilot ends

The impact on an individual of receiving a basic income will echo throughout their life, even if the payments were to stop. For example, being able to leave an abusive relationship because you are no longer financially dependent on your partner will have an enormous impact on your life outcomes, which will not be fully realised when the pilot finishes, whenever it finishes. Choices we make about our education when we don’t need to worry about needing to work alongside our studies or we are confident about receiving a basic income throughout our lives will impact our careers in an extremely meaningful way.

How can we fully measure the impact of a basic income after two years on someone two years into a four-year degree they would not have been able to take on otherwise? How can we fully measure the savings to the NHS of someone not having a heart attack in 20 years because they were able to change their life for the better when receiving a basic income for a couple of years in their forties? Some problems take longer than a pilot period to solve so we may have no indications of an effect which would only manifest decades down the line. Which leads us to ask an uncomfortable question:

What if the pilot ‘fails’?

By now I hope it’s clear that the results of a pilot must be taken in the context of the limitations of the pilot but it is worth pointing out that if we knew exactly what a basic income would do, and exactly how to implement one, then we wouldn’t need a pilot at all. Any pilot outcome is a good outcome because it provides us an opportunity to learn how to make a better one. The small scale of a pilot means it will be targeted at a particular group, either by a common social situation, geography, or another factor (unless provided by lottery on a national basis). An ideal approach might be to run several different types of pilots side by side to try to get the widest variety of findings. Some may have better results than others.

Thinking back to the first point about deciding up front what success might look like, we must also think about what it means for the idea if results don’t go our way. For example, if I wanted to eliminate poverty by giving everyone £1/day I could conclude at the end of my pilot that giving people money didn’t achieve anything, and therefore we shouldn’t give any money at all, when instead I should realise that I didn’t do enough to make a measurable impact.

I don’t expect it to be an easy journey to clarify the expected outcomes of a basic income pilot in Scotland, and how they might be tested, but I hope that if we can manage the expectations of the public around the scope, aims, and outcomes of a basic income pilot we can make the most of the opportunity it offers to create a fairer and more secure society for all of us.

Stay informed as proposals for pilots in Scotland are developed by joining the Citizen’s Basic Income Network Scotland mailing list

CBINS News, Volunteer with CBINS

Volunteer Social Media Coordinator

Citizen’s Basic Income Network Scotland is a charity campaigning for a basic income in Scotland. We support a network of basic income advocates – providing training and a platform for discussion. We lend our expertise to government and share the stories of people who would benefit from a basic income.

We are an entirely volunteer-run organisation, all united behind the goal of bringing a basic income to Scotland. We are currently looking for a social media volunteer to join our team

The Volunteer Social Media Coordinator role is a brand new position within our growing team. One of our key strategic aims moving forward is to increase our online presence and ensure we are always at the heart of the online discussion surrounding a basic income in Scotland.

Our social media strategy is based on the following areas:

  • Promotion of key CBINS organisational messages. These include the following: encouraging volunteers to join the network; encouraging people to sign up to a CBINS mailing list and write for the blog; and promotion of CBINS events when they occur.
  • Sharing new and existing articles from the CBINS blog.
  • Sharing news stories and other articles published on other websites that are relevant to the Basic Income movement in Scotland.

Our social media coordinator will be responsible for engaging with CBINS’ friends and followers online, while providing online message consistency for the organisation.

This role is ideal for anyone looking to gain experience in contributing to and delivering a social media campaign. You will receive support and training from other CBINS team members who have professional experience of marketing. You will learn about developing social media marketing strategies and content.

Role and responsibilities:

  • Construct social media posts with guidance from other CBINS team members. This may include sharing relevant articles and ideas from other organisations and promoting CBINS events and workshops.
  • Monitor the CBINS Facebook and Twitter accounts in order to respond effectively to followers, influencers and trends. This may include sharing relevant content, replying to comments or feeding back breaking news and trending topics to the rest of the team.  
  • Support CBINS fundraising through the promotion of effective Calls-to-Action on social media.
  • Provide brand and message consistency across all social media platforms.
  • Use Hootsuite to schedule important messages in advance of their publication.
  • Ensure all social media posts are visually appealing with relevant and legally-sourced photos or designed graphics.
  • Coordinate with the website editor to ensure all blog articles are promoted effectively.
  • Live tweet CBINS workshops and events.

Skills and knowledge:

  • Self-motivated with the ability to act on own initiative.
  • A team player who can work with others to achieve common goals.
  • An interest in basic income and joining the CBINS team of volunteers, aiming to bring a basic income to Scotland
  • An understanding of social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter.
  • Knowledge of Hootsuite or other social media scheduling tools an advantage.
  • An understanding of the importance of promoting basic income in a way that corresponds with the mission and ideals of CBINS.

Without volunteer contributions CBINS would not exist. In exchange for volunteers’ time we provide opportunities for professional development. Let us know what you hope to gain from this role and we will do our best to help you achieve it.

If you are interested in becoming the Volunteer Social Media Coordinator for CBINS email us on team@cbin.scot with a bit of information about yourself. 

CBINS News, Volunteer with CBINS

Volunteer Event Coordinator

Citizen’s Basic Income Network Scotland is a charity campaigning for a basic income in Scotland. We support a network of basic income advocates – providing training and a platform for discussion. We lend our expertise to government and share the stories of people who would benefit from a basic income.

We are an entirely volunteer-run organisation, united behind the goal of bringing a basic income to Scotland. We are currently looking for a volunteer event coordinator to join our team.

The event coordinator role is a brand new position within our expanding volunteer team. You will help us deliver one of our key strategic aims: designing, coordinating and running an ongoing series of meet-up events. There may well end up being a team of volunteer event coordinators that help deliver these events – if you are interested in some parts of the role and not others, please still get in touch.

These meet-up events will help us increase our profile, engage with the general public and educate attendees about basic income and its benefits. The events will be fun, social and interesting to everyone, even those with no knowledge of basic income. Each event will have a theme and a guest speaker. There will be a focus on fundraising, capturing people’s opinions and gauging people’s level of understanding of basic income.

To start with these events will be run in Edinburgh, as this is where most of our team is based. In the long term we hope to produce a “How To” guide that we can pass on to basic income advocates around Scotland so they can host their own events.

This role is ideal for anyone looking to gain experience in designing, coordinating and running events. You will receive support and training from other CBINS team members who have professional experience of event coordination. You will be central to the development of this event series

Role and responsibilities:

  • Seek out and liaise with venues suitable for these events.
  • Support the design of the events, including: contributing to decisions over themes; finding speakers; and designing engagement and fundraising activities.
  • Supporting the promotion of the events, including: producing content for social media; designing creative and effective ways of attracting event attendees; flyering and putting posters in local businesses.
  • Support the delivery of the events, including some or all of the following: welcoming attendees; stimulating discussion about basic income; liaising with speakers; liaising with the venue; encouraging donations; promoting CBINS; distributing surveys; facilitating ice breakers and engagement activities; speaking.
  • Support the development of a process for delivering a meet-up that can be replicated by other teams in different areas.

Skills and knowledge:

  • Self-motivated with the ability to act on own initiative.
  • A team player who can work with others to achieve common goals.
  • Good people skills, able to make attendees feel welcome, engaged and comfortable.
  • An interest in event coordination, promotion and/or design.
  • Organised, systematic with good attention to detail.
  • Comfortable speaking in front of others.
  • Experience of community building an advantage.
  • Experience of event facilitation an advantage.
  • Experience of event coordination an advantage.
  • An understanding of the importance of promoting basic income in a way that corresponds with the mission and ideals of CBINS.
  • An interest in basic income and joining the CBINS team of volunteers aiming to bring a basic income to Scotland. This doesn’t mean you need to have a deep economic or academic understanding of the topic, just that you have an awareness of and interest in the concept. You will learn a lot about basic income very quickly.

Without volunteer contributions CBINS would not exist. In exchange for volunteers’ time, we provide opportunities for professional development. Let us know what you hope to gain from this role and we will do our best to help you achieve it.

If you are interested in becoming the Volunteer Event Coordinator for CBINS email us on team@cbin.scot with a bit of information about yourself. 

Child Poverty, Poverty

Bairns Come First

In this guest blog, Rhona from Fife Gingerbread looks at how a basic income could transform the issues surrounding child poverty. Fife Gingerbread supports lone parent, vulnerable and disadvantaged families across Fife.

Rhona Cunningham, Fife Gingerbread #BairnsComeFirst

Child poverty is finally getting attention from the Scottish Government, but what do people think of when they hear the word ‘poverty’ in a Scottish context? I would hazard a guess that they’ll imagine a lone parent or couple who are unemployed, and in most instances this will be the case. However, there are many families with parents who are employed but experience in-work poverty.

Even working full time on the National Living Wage, families are falling short when it comes to being able to afford to raise a child, by 12% for a couple with two children and 18% for a lone parent with one child. When you consider it costs on average (according to Centre for Economics and Business Research, 2016) £231,000 to raise a child to the age of 21 in the UK, that 12% – 18% shortfall is a serious amount of money.

Something that isn’t really coming up in the child poverty conversation is something that would help alleviate that shortfall for lone parents; child maintenance. Relationship breakdown and separation have both emotional and financial implications, often resulting in reduced household income, changes to housing circumstances, and employment. Women are more likely to take on caring responsibilities for children[1] and are more likely than men to experience a reduction in income as a result of relationship breakdown. Child maintenance has a vital contribution to make to households, particularly for costs that may be less visible such as childcare to help a parent maintain employment.

Photo credit: Katie Brand for Fife Gingerbread (#bairnscomefirst)

In Scandinavia, payments are guaranteed through the welfare system, while in the UK child maintenance is treated as a private matter, with families encouraged to reach a family-based arrangement with or without statutory support. Arrears owing to children from non-resident parents under the previous Child Support Agency stand at over £257million for Scotland (as at September 2016): an average of £4.3million per UK Parliamentary Constituency in Scotland. According to a recent consultation, it is likely that much of this debt will be written off, with a generation of children never seeing the money that should have been there to help meet a child’s everyday living costs.

While the old system was inefficient – costing 50p to administer for every £1 collected – the new Child Maintenance Service is not without its own problems. There is now a £20 fee to access the Child Maintenance Service, payable by the parent with care, disproportionately affecting women. If using the CMS’ Collect and Pay system, there are charges for the parent without care (20%) and deductions from what is paid to the parent with care (4%), which reduces the amount of child maintenance that a family receives while generating substantial annual revenue income for HM Treasury.

The reality is that two thirds of lone parents receive no child maintenance payments. Many families are facing hardship as a result of non-payments, with low income families being particularly affected by non-payment of child maintenance. Even where there are arrangements in place, levels of child maintenance are not viewed as adequate for a child’s needs.

Shielding children from issues arising from child maintenance arrangements can be difficult. Child maintenance can be used as a form of coercive control, and a way to have a continuing hold over a former partner and child. Irregular payments and inconsistency in the amount paid can make it difficult to budget for child and household needs effectively, creating financial hardship and stress. In cases where there is a successful child maintenance arrangement in place, parents often redistribute money across the household in order to meet the needs of all the children which can create tension within the household and affect children’s emotional wellbeing.

Imagine the difference that a basic income would make for children and families. As well as being universal and unconditional, a basic income would be paid to individuals, including children. The primary care giving parent would administer a child’s basic income on their behalf. This would provide a regular and reliable payment that households could use to provide for their children and to plan for their future, radically changing the context for conversations around child poverty, the value of caring, and making work pay.

[1] 95% of parents with care are female

This blog draws on Poverty Alliance research into Child Maintenance in Fife find out more here

Broken Welfare System

Inside the DWP – Debt and UCD372

A current employee of the Department of Work and Pensions approached us wanting to share insight into the distressing treatment of people currently dependent on the benefits system. They stressed the need for a dramatic change in our welfare system and advocated for a move to a basic income.

Anonymous Employee of the Department of Work and Pensions

A UCD372 suggests some hellish sort of missile, and for some it is just as devastating. A UCD372 is the debt letter sent out by the Department of Work and Pensions to ‘claimants’, as the government would like them to be called, but are called ‘customers’ by those who care a little more. The letter has no colour to speak of, it’s comprised of serious greys, bold blacks and stark whites and looks very ominous. The language is just as frightening, as ‘claimants’ are warned ‘You are now in a minority of people who have received money they’re not entitled to.’ – due to the inefficiencies of the Universal Credit system hundreds of these letters are sent out every single day, but the recipient is ignorant to these and will no doubt feel as if the whole weight of the DWP is coming down on them and a select few others.

This, and many other examples, bang several nails in the coffin of Universal Credit that claims to be efficient and better for the ‘claimant’. It is entirely possible, and all too common, for citizens to be in receipt of two overlapping benefits without truly understanding that they are. The confusion of legacy benefits, as the six older benefits that comprise Universal Credit are called, and the new Universal Credit itself is difficult enough for the DWP to handle, let alone a single individual traversing the benefit minefield.

This single scenario shows the inherent wickedness in our current benefit system and the welfare state. Even the language is sneering. ‘Claimant’, it rings of someone who is having to stake a claim, a right for the pittance that the state pays out. Claims can be challenged and denounced and the DWP often does. When debts mount up then the DWP will recoup them from one’s Universal Credit. Up to 16% of one’s total benefits can be claimed, with ease, to repay arrears of all kinds. When someone is trying to live on a meagre Universal Credit this is no small amount. The almost Orwellian language is just as wicked, ‘You are now in a minority’, it’s difficult to think of something more horrible to utter. In a world in which any government of the day spouts language about inclusion and cohesion in society, it must be horrid for the government to say that there are minorities and you’re one of them. These scare tactics would be denounced if employed by a debt collector who knocked on your door, but when the government use them all is well.

This common scenario alone shows the struggle that basic income advocates ahead have. The culture of the Department of Work and Pensions is not geared to providing for all. It is about conquering and dividing. It is about sanctions, threats and bullying. Yet, it should be a weapon in the basic income armoury. When we see the realities of the system currently employed and what it does to citizens it is difficult to justify treating a person in such a way. It becomes easier to advocate a basic income. A world in which people are not ‘claimants’ or ‘customers’, but citizens and their right to a monthly cash transfer is enshrined in that citizenship alone. A right that cannot be challenged, sanctioned or taken away. Where debts cannot mount up and frightening letters don’t arrive in peoples lives. Where poverty is not compounded not due to the individual but by failings of the state. When given these two examples, which are fundamentally about human decency and how one should be treated, not benefits, it is hard to stick with the system we have.

If you would like to write us a blog about your experience and why you want to see a basic income in Scotland get in touch team@cbin.scot

Entrepreneurism, Improved working conditions, Well-being, Work

Creating Better Working Days

Why don’t people spend time on their true passions? Here Alyona argues that, by providing a safety net for people in precarious employment and those on the brink of poverty, a basic income would allow people to invest time in their skills and talents.

Alyona Rogozhkina Happiness architect, Founder of the happiness at work project Sonas.

In an recent article by Guy Standing for Social Europe, (Left Should Stop Equating Labour With Work), I found a point about sustainable economic policy very appealing.

My background is in Behavioural Science, where I wrote my thesis called “Why people don’t spend time on their true passions?” According to the analysed survey responses of more than 200 people across the UK, most of the participants complained that work is rather the activity that they ‘have to do’ in order to be able to afford their lifestyle and then only to enjoy something that they love. Moreover, working/studying activity demonstrated quite a high level of boredom and less than average level of everyday happiness.

One of the powerful concepts that might help to invent a better future where individuals are supported to do more of what they want, I believe is the idea to implement Universal Basic Income policy – or “paying people for being alive”. It is certain that UBI is not an easy concept to implement and there are a few serious challenges that must be taken in mind when designing the implementation process. For example, it is important to create proper ways of inclusion for vulnerable and ‘hard-to-reach’ social groups such as the homeless, disabled people and immigrants. It might be that it is not the best idea to simply give the money to the disadvantaged drug addicts or alcohol dependent homeless because they may not value these benefits and spend their money to harm their lives even more. However, to compliment UBI for vulnerable citizens with proper advisory help (such as connecting with professionals who will equip them with information about a wide range of services that are available community or assist with the best ways to manage the budget) might be a sustainable forward-thinking direction for policy makers.

Even though UBI has not a certain reputation yet, there are a few reasons why it makes a lot of sense to continue piloting this concept in societies. First of all, UBI has the potential to resolve the dilemma between fighting unemployment and striving against poverty. Secondly, UBI could also be a catalyst for a generation of entrepreneurs – becoming not only a backstop for bad jobs, but the material condition for human fulfillment. Finally, looking at the forecast of futurologists it is very likely that by 2047 the planet is going to face “jobless future” where about 50 percent of employees would not be needed due to rapidly improving robotics and artificial intelligence industries.

It might be that all these future challenges have been exaggerated and the whole idea to change the labor market in a way that more people will have a chance to do what they want might sound like a utopia. One of the cynical views on implementing UBI is that people will regress by passing their time in pleasant leisure activities rather than improving their skills and talents. At the moment it looks like instead of spending time in passionate activities or living up their potential, most people are working in a desperate attempt to cling to their jobs because they need to support themselves and their families with basic needs. However, more and more people are trying out an uncertain freelancing journey, part-time and multiple jobs to brighten their future. Therefore, testing and developing UBI seems to be a promising path to a changing economic culture that might help both to support plenty of talents constrained by the present work-money system and to possibly lift some people up out of poverty and develop healthier local communities.

If you have expert insight into why we need a basic income in Scotland and would like to write us a blog get in touch team@cbin.scot

Health, Poverty, Well-being

Health, Poverty and Basic Income

I work in a busy, urban hospital in Canada. People come to our Emergency Department and Clinics because they suffer workplace accidents, or family violence, or flare-ups of chronic conditions. They are our patients because they live in inadequate housing, and eat poor diets, and work at brutish jobs if they are fortunate enough to have work, or struggle to qualify for income assistance or disability support if they are not. Our patients are worn down by years of low incomes and pervasive racism. Many struggle with self-harm, exacerbated by job losses associated with economic change. More hospital use is driven by bad luck than by faulty genes.

On days when I need a break from data, I drink coffee with patients like the thirty-five year old learning to cope after he lost his leg at the knee to diabetes, or the fifty-year old with multiple chronic conditions who looks decades older, or the young mother taking a break from the NICU where her little one, born way too early, struggles. I talk to patients who have been flown in for treatment from remote Northern reserves where First Nations people live in deep poverty. I meet people who are in the hospital because they have the great misfortune of being poor in a wealthy country that takes great pride in providing universal healthcare, but makes only a grudging effort to alleviate the ultimate cause of poor health.

A few years ago I began to look seriously for evidence that we can make the population healthier if we invest some of our healthcare budget upfront to address poverty, instead of downstream after poverty wears down bodies and minds. I remembered an old Basic Income experiment that took place in Canada in the 1970s called Mincome. That experiment, like others of the era, was primarily interested in whether the poor, given the option of a Basic Income, would work less. The experiment itself was a victim of changing governments, and its remarkable results went unknown for years. Labour economists in the 1980s showed that few people worked less – just as had been the case in the four contemporary US experiments, but they noted that pregnant women and “young unattached males” did work fewer hours. Married women were essentially using the Mincome stipend to buy themselves maternity leave at a time when the legal entitlement was only four (unpaid) weeks.

I went in search of the data, which I recovered in 1800 cardboard boxes. The old data tapes had become obsolete.

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I also talked to participants. Those who were high school students during the experiment, like Eric Richardson, gave me my first clue: he didn’t work because he was in high school. Many of his friends were also the first in their families to graduate from high school. They all told similar stories: before Mincome, low-income families encouraged their adolescent sons to become self-supporting as soon as possible. After all, there were jobs for strong, young men in the 1970s – in agriculture and in manufacturing. Both of these industries have suffered in the past forty years, and it takes little imagination to realize that the lives of these young men who left school before graduating would include job loss, retraining and disruption. When Mincome was introduced, however, some of these families encouraged their young sons to stay in school a little bit longer. The opportunities these young men would have in the next forty years would be very different from those that greeted their older brothers and cousins.

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The Richardson Family in the 1970s

I was less interested in labour than in health and wellbeing. Were these families happier and healthier? The participants certainly felt themselves better off. Amy Richardson, Eric’s mother who was widowed during the experiment, claimed that Mincome “made life easier. It was enough to add some cream to the coffee.”

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Amy Richardson, 2010

My statistical work supported my instincts: people who had a BI available to them were less likely to be hospitalized and less likely to visit their family doctors. One key reason was improved mental health.

In 2017, the province of Ontario in Canada began an ambitious 3-year experiment with Basic Income. Ontario, like many provinces in Canada, spends more than 50% of its budget on healthcare. Premier Kathleen Wynne was genuinely concerned about the well-being of the population, the challenges of young families and especially the mental health of youth. However, at least some politicians were intrigued by the suggestion that one way to get escalating healthcare costs under control might be to address the ultimate cause of many interactions with the healthcare system – poverty.

  • Evelyn L Forget, Economist and Professor of Community Health Sciences, University of Manitoba, Canada

Professor Forget is delivering a seminar on the relationship between basic income and health for the Glasgow Centre for Population Health on April 17th, 2018. You can book to attend here.

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Should we welcome Silicon Valley’s support for basic income?

An excellent recent article in Wired, The Paradox of Universal Basic Income, made several interesting points about, among other things, the impact of political motivation on basic income schemes (principally the decision by a conservative government in Finland to only give basic income to the unemployed). It’s a good read.

But why is a magazine known for its focus on technology talking about social security reform? I feel like since I first discovered basic income back in 2015 the loudest voices on the global stage have been coming from billionaires, especially those in Silicon Valley. This shouldn’t be a surprise given that anything someone of such a profile says or does necessarily generates media attention, but it reflects the fact that the most high profile argument for basic income seems to be the forthcoming automation revolution. In other words, basic income is positioned as a preventative measure against things to come.

This troubles me. Besides ignoring the fact that a basic income is necessary even without automation because of its ability to address the failures of the current system, these tech billionaires are talking about the automation revolution without acknowledging that they are the ones responsible for it. Its like a landlord advocating for more social housing for the tenants they are about to evict. I mean, yeah, thanks for supporting my cause, but would you mind not exacerbating the problem it addresses at the same time?

Whenever I give a talk on basic income, without fail someone will accuse me of Malthusian scaremongering about increased unemployment. Why won’t this tech revolution create new jobs in the same way the industrial revolution did?

For starters, the reason this revolution is different is because it is ‘brainwork’ that is disappearing, rather than physical labour. Technology is not at the point yet where you can speak to an AI without wishing a person could be there to help you, so surely you, the reader, couldn’t be replaced with a software program that could do your job as well as you? The sad answer is that you’re right, and it doesn’t matter. Think about the last time you navigated an automated telephone system. Was that as good or better than speaking to a human being right away? Of course not, but they were replaced anyway, because ‘good enough’ trumps ‘perfect’ whenever the price is right. And this is where Google, Amazon, IBM and a million little start-ups are taking us.

It is a step forward that our leading lights actually care, or profess to care, what happens to the rest of us when they make our work (and by extension, those of us narrowly specialised in this work) unnecessary. All they are doing is asking for a solid floor to society upon which they can widen inequality in their favour, and ensure there is money in the pockets of the population to buy their products. A modern twist on Company Scrip where workers exchange tokens for goods at an employer-operated store in lieu of a cash salary.

On balance, I do believe that the backing of these tech moguls for a basic income helps more than it hurts, but we need to claim the narrative back for the human rights argument for eliminating today’s poverty, and improving the quality of life for all of us right now, and not let basic income become too strongly entwined with a single argument based on a problem that is yet to fully manifest. And let’s not forget the role our would-be patrons play in this crisis of their own making.

Ben Simmons, CBINS Trustee – @vforfive