Broken Welfare System, Designing a Basic Income, Real lives, Volunteer with CBINS

Basic Income: Real Lives

There are multiple people within and for the basic income movement who, for various reasons, have come to see basic income as a plus for society, and for whom it has become a cause worth pursuing. Many more people may be unaware of it, who could benefit from it, or who are familiar with it but unsure how to the join the conversation. At CBINS we believe in giving voice to as many as possible, so we would like to hear from anyone who feels it could benefit them.

Dani Porter, Editor CBINS and Freelance Journalist

The theory and design of social policy, even social justice, can feel the intangible reserve of experts – policy makers, academics and so on. Social policy affects everyone however, although not everyone has a voice. This is especially true of those who are socially or economically marginalised (or both), and basic income is one policy which has the potential to help those the most.

It’s a policy that could affect so many people’s lives in a positive way, which is why we feel it is important to give a platform to different voices. No one understands someone’s personal circumstances and livelihood more than the person living it; everything else is theoretical. This understanding is crucial to developing the right frameworks for an effective policy.

Could you benefit from a basic income and would you like to write (or be interviewed for) a piece about how it would impact you?

If you have reservations or questions about such a policy then we welcome this too – all perspectives add to the discussion, and these could help form a policy that looks better for you.

Those who may particularly benefit could be:

  • Creative professionals
  • Those in careers increasingly affected by digitisation
  • Single parents
  • Those on minimum wage and or zero hour contracts
  • Carers
  • Those unhappy in their current job but who can’t afford to retrain

This list is not exhaustive; basic income has the potential to positively impact multiple demographics, and not just those at the current point of relying on welfare support. You may be a middle-earner and part of a two parent family in a relatively stable job for instance, but still benefit from it – your voice is no less important or urgent.

We would love to hear any reflections on how a basic income might affect you. What might an unconditional £5K, £15K, £20K per annum have on your livelihood, your relationships, choices and so on?

I am happy to receive written contributions, alternatively I can conduct an email or telephone interview. These can be published with your name or anonymously.

If you would like to share your view please contact me at dani.porter@cbin.scot or 07808 820784.

Basic Income Pilots, Designing a Basic Income, Poverty, Well-being, Work

Ontario Basic Income Pilot: A participant’s perspective

When discussing basic income it is easy to get lost in ideological and political discussion, or economics on a macro scale, forgetting the most important factor: people’s daily lives. Here we have an exclusive, honest and detailed account from someone who has participated in a basic income pilot, and the ways in which it impacted his life.

Coady Paquette-Nemchuck

I enrolled in the Ontario Basic Income Pilot in April of 2018, as the enrolment process was nearing its end. I had previously been receiving disability supports while working and my enrolment in the pilot came following the loss of my job, which had caused me great emotional and mental turmoil. The sense of loss following 8 months of dedicated work, combined with losing the ability to cover my half of the household’s utilities and rent expenses I share with my mother, resulted in a marked hit to my self-esteem, great shame and a severe relapse of my previously controlled depression and anxiety disorder symptoms.

These mental health difficulties came about as the result of years of bullying and abuse in my formative elementary school years, and were further exacerbated by several cases of mistreatment from other successive employers following graduation from high school. I had spent prior years working to improve my mental and physical health through various self-improvements which included the loss of 60 lbs (approx 4.3 stone) of excess weight over 9 months, as well as weaning off of my antidepressant medication which was providing less than desirable side effects. I was able to return to a ‘normal’ state of mind, only to have the stability I had worked so hard for shattered and my earned quality of life taken away.

Thanks to the mutually beneficial living arrangements and support I have with my mother, neither of us would starve or become homeless, but I now lacked the ability to meaningfully contribute to the household as I had done before. While working I earned approximately $1700 per month, plus a reduced $230 disability payment, totalling approximately $1900. $800 of this amount was provided to cover my half of all the living expenses, utilities and rent for the household, while providing an extra bit of support to my mother so that she could have savings of her own. My disability support payments would continue after the job loss, but for me, a disability support payment with no deductions from earned income amounted to only $861 per month.

Ontario’s model explained

The Ontario Basic Income Pilot was initiated by the previous provincial government on the advice of the Honorable Hugh Segal, who provided the government with a discussion paper, from which they laid out the pilot’s guidelines. Participants were enrolled in the cities/communities of Lindsay, Hamilton, Thunder Bay, Brantford, Brant County and other minor surrounding areas. These locations were chosen to aptly test the impact of a basic income under various scenarios. Small and medium sized communities, a large urban setting, rural areas and areas predisposed to high levels of unemployment, crime and substance abuse and/or addiction were chosen for this purpose. Participation eligibility criteria required a recipient’s income as less than $34,000 per year for individuals, or up to $48,000 jointly per year for couples.

A sample of 4000 people received monthly basic income payments totalling $1415.75 for individuals, $1915.75 for persons with disabilities and $2002.25 for couples. A further 2000 people were enrolled as part of a “comparison group.” These participants did not receive the basic income. Both groups would answer surveys asking them about their living standard, health outcomes, education, training and stress, among other measures. The amount allocated comprised 75% of the Low Income Measure (LIM) so as to encourage work. Any earned income would reduce the payments allocated by 50 cents per dollar earned. Participants who were receiving social assistance payments from any of the existing income support programs were required to withdraw, but would be eligible for rapid reinstatement at the conclusion of the pilot in the event they still needed social assistance.

The model was designed in a way which provided targeted assistance to the poorest people while still encouraging workplace participation, with the goal of lifting the participant out of poverty. Though it was means-tested it provided a significantly larger amount of financial security for its participants, with much less bureaucratic oversight than the province’s current social supports system. It was argued that if a hypothetical basic income were implemented in a way which was focused on only those who lacked the basic means to survive, it would be more cost effective and actionable in practice, while still addressing the needs of its intended target population.

The first payments

I first received notification that I had been accepted to receive payments on the evening of May 11th. I was to be provided with a monthly basic income of $1915.75 per month. My immediate reaction to this information is difficult to describe. I felt a combination of unease about receiving such a substantial amount of social assistance compared with what I was used to, and relief from knowing that my purchasing power and financial security would now be significantly better than if I had my $861 disability payments to rely on as income alone.

This basic income allowed for a continuation of living standard despite severe impact to my mental stability, and a restoration in self-esteem that came from being able to continue providing my mother with the same assistance as before. Prior to enrolling I had been indecisive about whether I supported such a scheme, but over time I gradually managed to reduce the stigma surrounding it in my mind by focusing on pursuing something which would generate future value: I felt an immediate need to do something productive with the funds, or I would never have been able to forgive myself.

I decided to save any unallocated funds available after living expenses and other obligations were covered towards education. I now had a steady source of reliable and decent income with which I could cover school costs. I applied to University and was accepted to start studies this September. The greatest benefit of the basic income in this scenario was that my ability to pay for things like books, administrative fees or other expenses did not depend on settling for employment which provided no relevant workplace experience in my field. I was free to seek out more readily available volunteer/internship opportunities related to my chosen field of study, without losing the ability to cover unforeseen expenses.

A further benefit is that my attention could be focused on my studies, as opposed to being divided between studying and the need for a source of income. Such a benefit is particularly useful in compensation for the adverse cognitive impacts of my depression. My plan is to pursue an Honours B.A degree in Community Health & Human Rights with the goal of pursuing a career in healthcare or in the public service. Basic income provided me with a restoration of dignity and sense of purpose in a time where suicide became a very real possibility. It created the conditions necessary for me to take on the greater responsibility I so deeply desired to fill the void in my life. It spurred me into pursuing something meaningful to justify the support I received. I am committed to completing my education so that even after the pilot’s premature cancellation, I may have something to show for it.

Conclusion

Although my participation was brief, my participation helped teach me the importance of understanding the circumstances faced by society’s most vulnerable before making judgments. I am now convinced that the single greatest challenge to the implementation of a basic income is not found in the workability of the policy, but in the attitudinal barriers and stigma that surrounds the concept of social assistance.

Here in Ontario we had a workable model which provided targeted relief to the poorest citizens. It was designed in a way which sought to realise potential rather than assuming a lack of it. It worked to address the root of poverty: lack of opportunity. It threw away negative assumptions about personal responsibility and gave recipients a chance to control their own lives in a meaningful way. How much potential do we lose because of these harmful assumptions? How many people yearn for the chance to be useful and bring their potential forward to the betterment of themselves and society?

All the questions we have about a basic income’s impact on health outcomes, education, labour force participation and potential savings to healthcare and social assistance expenditures cannot be answered if we are not willing to put the theory into practice. I firmly believe that our model put forward many actionable and noteworthy approaches to tackling the issue of feasibility with respect to the implementation of a basic income.

While there is no one size fits all solution, I believe many of these approaches could have broad applicability towards other pilot experiments. There are still opportunities in other jurisdictions around the world to test various models of how a basic income might function. Here, Scotland has a unique chance to pick up the torch and work to answer these questions. An opportunity that it should not squander.

We currently accept submissions for our blog, and are particularly interested in hearing how a basic income might benefit people’s lives here. Published anonymously, or fully credited, if you would like to contribute a case for CBI, please contact dani.porter@cbin.scot

Designing a Basic Income

Why universal basic income costs far less than you think

Want to get rid of poverty, lessen inequality and provide financial stability in a world of precarious work? Well, why not simply give everyone enough money to ensure basic sustenance?

Elizaveta Fouksman, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow, University of Oxford

This is the deceptively simple solution proposed by advocates of universal basic income (UBI). Just transfer enough money to everyone, every month, to guarantee a basic livelihood. The policy is universal and unconditional (you get it no matter who you are or what you do).

This means no bulky bureaucracy to administer the programme, or onerous reporting requirements on the poor. Nor do you have to wait to file paperwork to benefit: whether you lose your job, decide to strike out on a new career path or take time away from work to care for a family member, the money is already there.

But the UBI movement has a major problem: both critics and even many supporters don’t understand how much the programme would really cost. To calculate the cost, most people just multiply the size of the monthly income (say, $1,000) by the population (it’s universal, after all) and – voilà – a number that seems impossibly expensive.

But this is not how much UBI costs. The real cost – the amount of money that actually needs to be taken from someone and redistributed to someone else – is just a small fraction of these estimates.

The key to understanding the real cost of UBI is understanding the difference between the gross (or upfront) and net (or real) cost. Here’s a simple example: imagine a room with 15 people who want to set up a UBI for the room of $2 per person. The upfront cost of the policy would be $30. The ten richest people in the room are asked to contribute $3 each towards funding it. After they each put in $3, raising the total $30 needed, every person in the room gets their $2 universal basic income. But because the ten richest people in the room contributed $3, and then got $2 back as the UBI, their real, net contribution is in fact $1 each. So the real cost of the UBI is $10.

Estimates that just multiply the size of the UBI by the population of a country do the equivalent of claiming that the cost of UBI in the room above is a whopping $30. But the real cost in this scenario – the money redistributed from the wealthy – is only $10.

The billionaire’s dilemma

It’s important to understand who will be gaining money through a UBI and who will be contributing to it. The common mistake is to double count the net contributors. Yes, they get a UBI, but in contributing to the UBI pot they first return their UBI, and then throw in some money on top of that. So it’s incorrect to count them when calculating the true UBI cost.

This is a fundamental point that often gets missed: those that are taxed to pay for the UBI will get some of that cost back – by getting their UBI. You can also think about it in reverse: while the UBI goes to everyone, the rich in effect give it back in the first chunk of taxes they pay, so you don’t need to count their UBI in cost estimates.

Dilemma solved.
OnInnovation/flickr, CC BY-ND

This also resolves UBI’s “billionaire’s dilemma” – why give someone like Bill Gates a basic income? The answer is that Gates would simply return that UBI through his taxes – and help pay for others. But if Gates becomes suddenly destitute, the UBI will still be showing up for him to use every month. And since his tax bill will drop, he’ll become a net beneficiary rather than contributor.

True costs

Any UBI estimate that just multiplies the size of the UBI by the population is a red flag that the cost has been over-inflated. A true cost estimate will always discuss who the net beneficiaries will be, who the net contributors will be, and the rate at which we gradually switch people over from being beneficiaries to being contributors as they get richer (this is sometimes called the claw-back rate, the withdrawal rate or the marginal tax rate – which is not an overall tax, but simply the rate at which people start to return their UBI to the communal pot as they earn more).

Cost estimates that consider the difference between upfront and real cost are a fraction of inflated gross cost estimates. For instance, economist and philosopher Karl Widerquist has shown that to fund a UBI of US$12,000 per adult and US$6,000 per child every year (while keeping all other spending the same) the US would have to raise an additional US$539 billion a year – less than 3% of its GDP. This is a small fraction of the figures that get thrown around of over US$3 trillion (the gross cost of this policy). Karl’s simplified scheme has people slowly start contributing back their UBI in taxes to the common pot as they earn, with net beneficiaries being anyone individually earning less than US$24,000 a year.

This point still holds if you’re raising money for UBI from other sources than income or wealth taxes. If you use a corporate or data tax, or a natural resource or carbon tax to finance a UBI, you are still redistributing money that would otherwise ultimately be profits that go to Google shareholders or BP executives. And you’re taking less away from them than you would think – because they too get a UBI. So the money they end up losing through the new tax is offset by the UBI they receive. The same holds if you’re paying for a UBI by reshuffling your budget.

Some people get confused and question whether UBI is really universal if only a portion of the population actually ends up with extra income, while another portion pays for it. But any policy that is universal yet redistributory works this way. Public transit, roads and schools are all universal benefits, but some people pay a lot for their funding through their taxes, while others enjoy them for free or at a lower cost.

The ConversationIn light of the huge benefits available from a UBI, it’s a waste of time to argue over wildly inflated cost estimates. The numbers are out there – we can pay for a basic income.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Basic Income News, Events, Long Read

Closing Reflections, BIEN Congress 2018

The Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) held their annual congress at The University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland last month. CBINS Co-founder Annie Miller made the closing speech at the congress, reflecting on the three day event. Here we reproduce the speech in full.

Annie Miller, Co-founder CBINS

Since I had the privilege of attending the first BIEN conference in Louvain-La-Neave in September 1986, I would like to give my reflections on how things have changed over 32 years. I have a list of mainly theoretical research papers, that were presented in 1986. They covered a fair range of topics. We have a paper on definitions by Philippe Van Parijs, a paper on BI and women by myself. We have two sessions on basic income and different ideologies, in which Jan Otto Andersson’s name appears; another session on Political Strategies including Alexander de Roo’s name, (as does that of Neils Meyer, co-author of the 1978 Revolt From The Centre); a session on aspects of labour, with a paper by Guy Standing; a session on Basic income and the Claimants’ Movement, and finally a session on the state of the debate in different countries with contributions from Walter Van Trier and Robert Van De Veen, all of whom (except Neils Meyer) have attended BIEN 2018.

When we compare 2018 with 1986, we see that the basis of the congress is still a broad range of theoretical research papers, but usually in more depth now and that the topics have extended to include, for instance, BI and ecology, BI and disability, alternative currencies, a world-wide BI, trade unions and the theoretical aspects of BI experiments. I would like to see more papers about constitutional safeguards for BI systems, and legal protections for recipients – from debt-collectors, for instance.

In addition to the continuing adverse effects of climate change, globalization and the financial crisis of 2008, there has been growing concern about the increasing effects of artificial intelligence and new technologies on wages and unemployment. While some have pointed out that old jobs have been replaced by ones in the new technologies, it ignores the decades of misery before they catch up. Automation does not present a new concern. It is merely one more cause of poverty and inequality which is the driver for so many of us in this movement, and which has beset too many people, especially women and children, for far too long. However, one optimistic aspect of this phenomenon is that, since automation and precarious employment is now encroaching on the professional and middle classes, we might hope to attract more powerful allies to our cause.

At a conference in London in 2014, a British politician advised us that the main Westminster parties are aware that the UK’s contributory National Insurance and means-tested Social Assistance systems are broken, but no one knows what to do about it, and none will put their necks on the block until it has been made safe to do so. Safety entails two requirements.

Firstly, it must involve some empirical experimental evidence – not just to show that it brings about the anticipated good outcomes but, even more importantly (even though one cannot prove a negative), to show that no disastrous unintended consequences will follow. Now we are seeing increasing activity in this area in this congress, with further testing of past data, the ongoing experiments around the world, and the planning of new ones.

Karl Widerquist has often said that research is not enough. And he is right about that. But it is also true that our research must be exemplary.  Good quality research is a necessary condition for change to take place, but it is not sufficient on its own to influence evidence-based decisions. We need activists also.

The second requirement is that an informed public must be demanding that a BI scheme be implemented. Even more importantly, the informed public must reclaim their democracy and engage with, and teach, their elected representatives, who will be the ones who will vote on whether BI schemes are implemented in the future. These are important educational and campaigning roles for BI activists.

It has been pleasing and educational to me to hear about the dissemination technique of framing and the importance of narrative in persuading people to be open-minded to new ideas. These are completely different from the skills of the academic; the two communities are complementary and must work co-operatively to change attitudes and power relations in society.

Thus, we can see that there are layers to the movement, with theoretical research forming a broad base. Empirical research forms another layer, mapping the topics in the theoretical layer, and the activism is a further layer, influencing the public and opinion-formers, policy-makers and politicians. I know that I am not alone in struggling to map out a comprehensive structure into which to insert my own BI ideas and facts;  there seem to be too many inter-related parts. Maybe three layers could help to simplify the schema?

Another enormous change since 1986, is that of the technology at our fingertips. Now many of us have access to word-processing programs, sophisticated statistical techniques, microsimulation software and, for many of us, access to official data sources – not always the data that one wants or in the form in which one would like it but, nevertheless, an enormous improvement. Many of us now have access to information online, that previously was only available by consulting books and journals in a library. In addition, we all are now connected by fast and diverse communication channels. One innovation in this congress has been the inclusion of a film festival, which is fantastic. And I have not had time to attend any of it.

There is always so much going on, and, in spite of being involved in this debate for over thirty years, I am still learning. My one gripe about BIEN Congresses is that I feel frustrated at missing out on so many interesting parts. There are always several competing papers in each of the parallel sessions that I would like to attend, but until I learn how to be in two places at once, I shall continue to miss out on so much. What is the solution? One might be able to read all the abstracts, but for someone who is dyslexic, like me, it is so much easier to listen and discuss things face to face.

Another difference between 1986 and now is that we used to call it ‘Basic Income’. Now it is called UBI. What is this all about? It seems to be a generational phenomenon. What is the difference between BI and UBI? And is it universal or unconditional, and what about individual? Really, it should be UIUBI. And so BIEN would become UIUBIEN. If we wish to use superfluous adjectives and initials in order to educate the public about BI’s defining characteristics, let us be really pedantic and base it on the BIEN definition. It is a periodic cash payment, so it should be PCUIUBI. Please starting practising ‘PCUIUBI’. Or why not just use plain ‘BI’?

And, talking about the characteristics that define a BI – when the structural faults of the means-tested Social Assistance system are addressed and corrected – the couple or household assessment becomes individual-based, targeting is replaced by universalism, differential levels of payment become undifferentiated except that they could be age-related, and the conditionality designed to influence behavior melts away. Thus, out of the wreckage of the old system, the BI emerges like a flower.

In the past year, I have been accused both of being a communist and of getting into bed with billionaires. Strangely, this makes me feel quite optimistic, since it implicitly recognizes that BI is not a one-horse system. It will not have just one outcome, but a range of possible objectives – equity, efficiency and liberty – that appeal to both left and right, although with different priorities. This emphasizes that fact that, while the majority of delegates here would not demur at being described as left-wing, we must also be able to speak in an inclusive way to people with right-wing leanings.

I find that when I talk with people about the broad objectives that a BI could help to fulfill directly – to respect and value all individuals and emancipate them; to prevent or reduce poverty and increase wellbeing; to redistribute income, creating a more just and inclusive society; to restore the incentives for paid work which means-testing destroys; and to simplify the administration of benefits and make it less intrusive – there is little – apart from perhaps redistribution – that right-wingers disagree with. It is important to discuss BI with those who have a different perspective, so that a broad coalition of political opinion can take the BI movement forward.

I was accused of getting into bed with billionaires at a recent lively session on BI at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. At one stage, the chair asked the audience how many would be willing to pay up to 50% income tax in order to pay for a BI, and about three-quarters of them raised their hands!

Talking about billionaires, I have often wondered what makes the 0.1% richest and most powerful of the world’s seven billion population tick. They control governments, own banks and the media, and seem to have undue influence in too many pies. They seem like an alien breed to me. I note that they don’t seem to be prepared to share responsibility for anyone else, which smacks of immaturity. They must have enormous inferiority complexes that can only be assuaged by being rich and powerful. They seem to distrust everyone – is this part of a guilt complex? And, finally, they don’t seem to be able to empathise with other people, especially with the misery of poor people. We call people like that sociopaths. While damaged children might deserve a certain amount of sympathy, they are also very destructive, and they should certainly not be given powerful toys to play with. How come that it appears to be people with potentially severe personality defects that control much of the world?

An aspect of BIEN congresses that makes it special for me is the composition of delegates. There seem to be more young people here this year, or is this just a matter of my age, and everyone seeming to get younger as I get older?  This is your future that we are trying to create, and it is important that you become engaged in the debate.

I love the fact that you are inter-disciplinary, and that you bring such a breadth of understanding to the congress. I love the fact that we are so international, but it leaves me feeling inadequate, because I am a monolingual Anglophone. I am so grateful to all of you who come here speaking English as a second language, which makes things so much easier for me, but puts an extra strain on many of you. Please believe me, we do not take it for granted. Finally, we are a mixture of skills and experience – academics, activists, civil servants, politicians, journalists, film-makers, and people at the sharp end who have experienced the shortcomings of our social security systems at first hand, and some who have even experienced the difference that a BI can make.

The icing on the cake for me is that I have always found the BIEN congresses very friendly. It is wonderful to be among like-minded people, and to feel part of a warm and caring family. Although we are just ordinary folk with the usual range of strengths and weaknesses, I have always found that there is something else special about us, and that is that ‘we walk our talk’. We are not so much wanting just to change our social security systems, but to start a revolution, a velvet revolution, to make the world a place fit for humans, while also protecting the other species that comprise the ecosystem. We hold dear the values of compassion, justice, liberty and solidarity and we try to act them out in our own lives.  It must be obvious to us all, that if we are part of a movement to implement BI, it can only be possible if it is underpinned by a deep love of humanity.  We should be able to look at the most despicable, wretched or evil person and say, ‘I may not like you, but I will not judge you, and I respect and care about you enough to want you too to have the blessing of a basic income’.

People like us, who are prepared to walk our talk, could change the world.  So, to borrow a Buddhist phrase, please, ‘go forth abroad the world with bliss-bestowing hands’.

This paper can be shared with, and read by, anyone who is interested in Basic Income. Please quote source and give full author credit, if referring to it.

CBINS News, Designing a Basic Income

Exploring Basic Income in Scotland

From September – November 2018 we are hosting a series of workshops to unite practitioners, policy makers and academics in an exploration of Basic Income in Scotland. This series is funded by the Scottish Universities Insight Institute (SUII) in partnership with Heriot-Watt and University of Edinburgh. We will cover issues that intersect with Basic Income, such as housing and human rights. The outputs will contribute to the public debates around the pilot authorities’ plans in Scotland, and deepen the understanding available globally for critics and proponents alike.

Late last year we were awarded a grant by the Scottish Universities Insight Institute to run a series of workshops Exploring Basic Income in Scotland. Much has happened since and significant progress has been made. Scottish Government has now allocated funds to 4 Scottish local authorities to design basic income pilots: Edinburgh, Fife, Glasgow and North Ayrshire.

This programme is about bringing together academics, practitioners and policymakers. Crucially, sceptics of the concept and the potential impacts on particular groups will be involved, as well as those who fully support the implementation of a Basic Income model in Scotland. We aim to anticipate and address the challenges of implementing Basic Income, with a focus on the Scottish context.

Through robust and focused discussion and analysis the plan is for a more rigorous basis for discussing and introducing a Basic Income in Scotland, with lessons for elsewhere as well. Each workshop will have a specific theme for discussion and we will welcome attendees and speakers with expertise specific to that subject. The workshop topics are:

  • Human rights and equality
  • Employment and entrepreneurship
  • Housing
  • Care
  • Implementation, evaluation and modelling

Each workshop will be informed by a pre-circulated scoping paper that we will also share publicly on our blog. You can read the first paper “Universal Basic Income in the UK”, written by Professor Paul Spicker, here. Focus groups, each a mixture of representatives from organisations and researchers with a special interest in that field, will then explore and address the challenges for different interests and concerns of Basic Income models.

We will capture the essence of the discussions to produce 6 briefing papers. The briefing papers will be published by SUII and CBINS to ensure the insight gained is widely accessible.

These workshops are unique in their approach, bringing together people from a variety of backgrounds and expertise to discuss themes identified as crucial to the effective implementation of a Basic Income. We are very excited to be facilitating the series and are grateful to SUII for funding the project.

If you would like to participate in any of these workshops please get in touch cleo.goodman@cbin.scot. Be the first to receive the outputs of this project by signing up to our mailing list.

Basic Income Pilots, Designing a Basic Income, Feasibility studies, Volunteer with CBINS

Feasibility Study: Is there institutional support for a basic income pilot?

This is the final instalment in our feasibility study series. So far we have looked at what a feasibility study is, whether political support is possible, and how we can create public support. The final piece of the puzzle is gaining support from the institutions that would allow the implementation of a pilot.

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

It is unlikely that Scotland currently possesses the ability to fund a basic income without consent from, amongst others, the DWP, HMRC and the Treasury. Westminster has debated basic income and rejected the idea, instead favouring their own idea of Universal Credit, which is currently setting the world alight much in the way an arsonist might. Ultimately, winning support from these institutions will depend on the affordability of running a pilot.

We’ve covered some key information about pilot schemes previously, but the maths is simple:

Cost per pilot = payment per person x number of people x length of pilot.

The feasibility study will need to put a number against each of those variables. There will be competing priorities between the different councils. Potential areas of disagreement are the target demographic for a basic income, the level of basic income, the duration of the pilot, and the impacts to be measured. For example, Glasgow may want to look at the impact of basic income on the long-term unemployed only whereas Fife might want to see what happens when you give a whole town basic income, regardless of their personal circumstances. There may even be demand for multiple different pilots to compare and contrast. One council may want to give people unconditional income equivalent to unemployment benefit only, while another may decide to set it equivalent to 21 hours of minimum wage work.

Political realities will also influence matters. It is entirely plausible that a pilot could be pushed to launch before a general election in 2020, or the length of a pilot curbed to finish before an election in 2025. Political parties may seek to smuggle in other policy objectives into a basic income pilot or underfund a pilot without considering that they are reducing the value for money. Finland received 20m euros despite asking for upwards of 40m, a major challenge when it comes to collecting enough data for conclusive analysis.

The affordability of a basic income pilot will be a major headline in the media but, ultimately, the affordability of a social program is always subjective. If we didn’t have the NHS and we were asking for it now the same arguments would be made against it by the same people arguing against basic income. If a feasible scheme can be designed, and demonstrated through a pilot to be effective, we will still need to fight tooth and nail to secure support for it in the tabloids. Introducing basic income is likely to depend on a referendum, such as in Switzerland, and if recent referenda have taught us anything, it is that honesty and integrity are cast too easily aside when it comes to campaigning on major issues.

If basic income is interesting to you and you would like to help us raise awareness we are always looking for volunteers. You can find out about our volunteering opportunities here on our website.

 

Basic Income Pilots, Designing a Basic Income, Feasibility studies, Improved working conditions, Poverty, Unpaid Work, Work

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?

 

Basic Income Pilots, Designing a Basic Income, Feasibility studies

Feasibility Study: Can basic income gain the necessary political support for a pilot?

In this second instalment of our feasibility study series we examine a key question the study needs to answer: will there be political support for a pilot?

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

Last week we gave an overview of the feasibility studies and what they are trying to achieve. One of the key objectives for the feasibility study is to determine whether a pilot scheme is politically feasible. So what are the major political parties saying about basic income? Happily, there is broad support for basic income, which we will recap here.

It was a politically diverse Fife Council that first expressed an interest in piloting basic income here in Scotland. Chairman of Fife Conservatives Dave Dempsey even wrote a blog for us ahead of our Kelty event in January 2017, and participated in our panel discussion for which we continue to be grateful.

It was at our Govan event in November 2016 that Scottish Labour Councillor Matt Kerr led the calls for basic income which brought Glasgow Council into the fold, and John McDonnell has recently proposed to include basic income in the next Labour manifesto. The Greens have long had basic income as a policy objective, and of course the SNP are funding the feasibility study. The Lib Dems are keeping a low profile publicly but there is interest from Lib Dem activists in seeing a policy position taken.

Despite the initial positive take on basic income, the Scottish Conservatives have been frustratingly inconsistent with their views. In February 2016 Adam Tomkins, Conservative MSP for Glasgow and the Shadow Social Security Secretary, described it as “where the Greens and the libertarian Right can find common ground”, even writing an article for the Daily Record in January 2017 calling for “Scotland to lead the way in giving the idea serious consideration”.

Yet when the SNP announced in September 2017 that they were going to fund a feasibility study the following month Adam Tomkins seemingly made an about turn, saying “It simply shows the lengths that this First Minister will go to appease the extreme left of the pro-independence movement”. That the same policy can be described as for the ‘extreme left’ while previously common ground for the ‘libertarian right’ suggests a public stance based on political posturing and power play, rather than on the welfare of society. As long as politicians put their desire for power above all else we will struggle for discussion of basic income in good faith, let alone consensus of opinion.

Logically, even if the Scottish Conservatives believe a basic income is the worst of all possible ideas they should support a relatively inexpensive basic income feasibility study simply to have themselves vindicated that it is not feasible. Fundamentally then, the ability for basic income to become a line of attack for the Scottish Conservatives is an issue the team leading the feasibility study must contend with. We should all be interested in evidence-based policy making, and frankly, by seeking to prevent an answer to the question I believe the Tories are acting in bad faith.

On a more hopeful note, this is not a problem unique to Scotland and has proven surmountable elsewhere. The Finnish trials needed cross-party support and this was eventually won through diplomacy on the part of the social security agency and through emphasising the pilots as a practice in evidence-based policy making. Hopefully a similar approach will work here. Additionally, if the Tories see positive public attitudes to the pilots perhaps they will change their minds.

Next we’ll ask: will the public support the pilots?

 

Basic Income Pilots, Designing a Basic Income, Feasibility studies, Volunteer with CBINS

Feasibility Study: What is the Government doing right now around basic income?

The proposed basic income pilots in Scotland are receiving a lot of attention in the media but it isn’t always clear what exactly is going on, and what progress is being made towards a pilot being launched. Right now the team behind the pilots are conducting a ‘feasibility study’ which will determine if a pilot can be carried out. In this short series we explain what those studies are, and what’s needed from them to be successful.

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

One of the biggest challenges facing the basic income movement in Scotland is message control. Too often it is reported that Scotland is running pilots, or is going to run pilots, when in fact we are still in the process of deciding if a pilot is possible. The work underway is called a feasibility study, and it means examining what kind of pilots could be possible and what we could find out from them. Based on the outcome of the feasibility study the Scottish Government may decide to fund one or many pilots in Scotland, but this outcome is by no means certain. If you would like to learn what a pilot scheme is you can read our blog on the subject.

Who is carrying out the feasibility study?

The work is being carried out through a Steering Group comprised of representatives from the four local authorities (Fife, North Ayrshire, Edinburgh and Glasgow) and NHS Health Scotland. The Improvement Service will provide support to the group including the recruitment of staff and the commissioning of research.

What is a feasibility study?

A feasibility study is how you decide if the thing you want to do is possible. The Scottish Government will need to make a decision on whether to release a very large sum of money to fund a basic income pilot, and they need a specific set of questions answered before they have the information they need to make that decision. The feasibility study needs to either answer those questions, or assure the government that a pilot would provide them with the information they need to decide if a basic income is a good idea.

For example, the Government may decide that for them to support a basic income they need to know for sure that it has a positive impact on health. If a basic income pilot cannot provide an answer to that question then the Government is not going to spend the money running a pilot. The feasibility study in this case would need to demonstrate that it is possible to run a pilot that would measure the impact on health.

What questions does a feasibility study need to answer?

The feasibility study needs to show that there is public demand for a basic income pilot, that political support for the pilots can be achieved, that a pilot will answer some or all of the key questions people are asking about the impact of a basic income, and whether there is support from key UK institutions such as HMRC, the DWP, and the Treasury to permit a pilot to take place and to fund it.

So what now?

The simple answer is to watch and wait for the outcomes of the feasibility study. The team delivering the feasibility studies have their work cut out for them. The best thing we can do as a society is to educate ourselves about the reality of the feasibility study, any possible pilots, and the arguments for and against basic income.

There will be opportunities to engage with politicians and the team behind it to make your views and concerns heard, and CBINS will be doing everything we can to create as many of these opportunities as possible, as well as communicate your views to policy makers through our participation in the cross-party working group and similar forums. Speak to us, help us organise an event in your area, and make your voice heard. The more we are able to engage with different communities the better we can represent you when we’re talking to power.

We’re excited to see what the feasibility study holds for basic income in Scotland. To stay in the loop you can follow us on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for our mailing list. Hopefully we’ll see you at an event near you soon, and if there isn’t one – help us put one on!

Next we’ll ask: Can basic income gain the necessary political support for a pilot?

Basic Income News, Basic Income Pilots, Broken Welfare System

Tories’ Attack on Basic Income Pilots is Based on Fear of Results

The Scottish Conservatives’ Social Security Spokeswoman, Michelle Ballantyne has recently called the basic income pilots across Scotland an “SNP vanity project” and suggests that “the scheme should be dropped now”. At a time when universal credit is shown to be failing, the Conservatives should not be misrepresenting evidence to attack research into an alternative. 

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

The Scottish Conservatives’ recent attack on the Scottish Government’s proposal for a series of basic income pilots is disproportionate and hypocritical. The claim is that the cost of the project has trebled, however, their position inflates the total expenditure by including the time staff spent on the project as if it were extra hours or new employees. In reality the project will be supported by staff in existing roles. They are acting in bad faith in a bid to score political points.

Basic income is a simple system which throws the complex means-tested system into sharp relief, and not to the benefit of the party driving austerity. The opposition to a relatively small investment in a scientific examination of the system speaks volumes about their fear of the results. If they truly believed basic income was unfeasible or ineffective they would support a pilot scheme to prove their point, yet they don’t.

Four councils in Scotland (Glasgow, Edinburgh, Fife and North Ayrshire) have been given the green light by the Scottish government to undertake research into the best way that a pilot scheme or schemes could be implemented. £250,000 has been set aside to fund the project, including two new full-time posts, and the project is expected to run for almost two years before recommendations are made. NHS Scotland is providing research design and evaluation support in exploring feasibility of local pilots of basic income in Scotland.

Jamie Cooke, Head of RSA Scotland commented “Rather than shortsighted, the Scottish Government and Local Authorities should be commended for taking a hard look at the state of social security and support in Scotland. When the National Audit Office has recently savaged the multiple failings of the Universal Credit system, we would have hoped that the Scottish Conservatives would be looking at a way to improve the lives of people across the country, rather than clinging to an obviously failing system for attempts at partisan point scoring.

Basic income is being explored as a potential idea for Scotland to rise to the challenges and opportunities of the world we are in – it is therefore reassuring that the Scottish Government and Local Authorities are fully supporting the work that is underway. We look forward to contributing to taking this timely idea forward, in partnership with countries across the world, and hope that all of Scotland’s political parties will choose to engage constructively, whether critical or supportive, rather than retreating into dead-ends of partisanship. The door will be open at the RSA for them to take part in that dialogue.”

The Tory opposition to basic income comes not from concern for the vulnerable but from a desire to score political points. The pilot research project is not over budget and is not predicted to go over budget. Research into a better social security system, especially in light of Universal Credit’s failings, should be a priority for all parties.

To hear more from Ben and Jamie come along to our event What is Basic Income? on Wed 11 July