Thursday, 16 June 2016

Basic Income

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 
claimed fraudulently.

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 
would be?

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 
immediate remedies.

I believe some of his assumptions about social behaviour were incorrect, but otherwise there are pre-echoes of today's debate.

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