Thursday, 16 June 2016
The question of a basic citizen's income has been raised recently. Here are the thoughts of (Lord) Ralf Dahrendorf back in 1999, given to the Demos think tank in London and quoted in the Independent:
Something has clearly gone wrong in the process of slaying the giants of
Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness. I want to pursue what
may well be called the New Social Question of those with but a tenuous
hold on full citizenship with its attendant rights, opportunities and
obligations. If the welfare state has failed to bring them in, what
else can be done to create a more inclusive society? Let me look at two
issues of great significance, fraud and work.
Put at its crudest, we must assume that between 2 per cent and 7 per
cent of all money spent on social security - between £2bn and £7bn -is
Crass cases and the presence of organised fraud underline this. The
other day, newspapers reported the case of a Belgian resident who
regularly comes by Eurostar to collect a housing allowance in Haringey.
No-one would defend such practices, or indeed any violation of the law.
The key question is: is fraud really due to greed, or does it actually
respond to need? Could it not be that many of those who manage to get
housing benefits, or jobseekers' allowances, or even disability benefits
to which they are not entitled, have no other source of income? Indeed
(to enter nearly-forbidden territory of discourse), is not benefit fraud
a less destructive crime than mugging and break-ins and drug peddling
What is necessary, above all, is to consider ways in which those who
have no other source of income can be put in a position which makes it
unnecessary for them to break the law.
Conservatives and Labour, and more particularly New Labour, have this in
common, that they like to keep people under control. Mr Darling says he
has "ended the money-for-nothing culture", and is still accused by
senior Tories of "outrageous laxity". But what do they want instead?
In fact, the single most characteristic promise held out by Mr Blair's
government in its social, economic and educational policies is - work.
Welfare to work, education for employment, from benefit dependency to
the independence of work - these are the phrases which recur in a
plethora of green and white papers and ministerial statements. Work it
appears, will solve all problems.
It would be tempting to speculate precisely what problems can be solved
by work. Problems of expenditure perhaps? That would be nice for the
Chancellor, and perhaps for us all. Or is it problems of social
control? Is work the last bastion of a matrix of social control that
used to be provided by family, school and neighbourhood which are
frequently no longer available as disciplinary forces? Is the
insistence on work part of the same syndrome of creating a more
organised, controlled society?
It can no longer be assumed that GAP growth equals employment creation;
jobless growth is a fact. Macroeconomic and supply-side conditions of
growth do not by themselves create employment; they may do the opposite.
I suspect the most intractable aspect of the new social question is
posed by men, especially young men.
They expect "regular" jobs, but cannot find them. They begin to reject
the entire official society which does not seem to have a place for
Before long, they turn to crime or to drugs, or both. They breed
children but don't want to look after them. They begin to drift, often
in and out of prison. We have a problem here which defies even social
The real issues of our society are micro issues. They require community
The advantages of guaranteed basic incomes for whether they work or not,
are evident. The twin problem fraud and work would lose their sting.
Short of a guaranteed basic income, there are already tested models of
similar intent. Working Families Tax Credits are a small step in the
right direction, though they do imply work, and assume families which,
for many, may not exist.
I do not think that we know very much about the society in which we are
living. We have become obsessed with macro-data. What we need is an
ethnography of reality. In the meantime, experiments with basic income
guarantees and the promotion of social entrepreneurs are not the worst
I believe some of his assumptions about social behaviour were incorrect, but otherwise there are pre-echoes of today's debate.