‘A Citizen’s Salary’: The Case for a Universal Basic Income in Wales

We sit down with Mark Hooper of Basic Income Wales to discuss the possibility of a government provided Universal Basic Income.

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Free money.

It’s an enticing prospect isn’t it?  Something Utopian. Something for some strange, futuristic dream world.

Surely though, you may ask, this can’t be serious.

Really? Free money?

How would it work?

Who would fund it?

What would it lead to?

It’s not only a movement growing in numbers by the day, but a movement that is currently seeing trials take place in Finland, India, and potentially Scotland.

The movement for a Universal Basic Income has gained a lot of traction the last decade, which is why we’ve sat down with Mark Hooper of Basic Income Wales to discuss the realities of ‘free money’, and the serious, radical changes it could make to daily life in Wales.

 

A citizen’s salary

So, what does a Basic Income in Wales actually entail?

As proposed by Basic Income Wales, the movement argues for an amount of money, ‘sufficient for people to have a normal life’,  provided entirely by the state.

Paid monthly, the income – in the Scottish case a suggested  £5,200 ,would be universally applied, with no means testing for it.

Whilst this sounds an exciting proposal, arguably one of the key issues facing the scheme is funding.

However, Mark Hooper of Basic Income Wales argues that a radical reform of the taxation system in Wales would free up large amounts of money to fund the scheme, stating ‘we don’t tax wealth very effectively in the UK’.

Whilst Income and Spending are taxed, the same can’t be said about corporate wealth, or even personal wealth.

According to Basic Income Wales, the most beneficial way of raising funds though would be a land value tax. Through this, valuable land owned by the few would be taxed to fund a Basic Income for everyone.

Indeed, a Basic Income in Wales would be for everyone. Period. Rich and poor, employed  and unemployed, young and old. From the richest in our society to the poorest, everyone would receive their salary off of the State.

Can this be done? Is this fair? Should we give free money to the rich? Don’t they have enough?

To answer these questions, Mark Hooper of Basic Income Wales points to the introduction of Child Benefits.  No matter the income bracket, no matter the employment status, there is already a precedent for introducing a government funded universal income.

 

‘Poverty isn’t a lack of character, it’s a lack of cash’

A lot of people in Wales think that work is the way out of poverty.  It’s undeniable that a lot of people, many of them struggling themselves accept this view.

If you haven’t got money, you’re not working hard enough.

That’s an easy enough mantra to digest. But it’s one that’s fundamentally wrong.

Ask any family man working twelve hour shifts on the regular, struggling to get by if he’s simply not working hard enough.   Ask the single-mother working two jobs trying to raise a son if she’s being too lazy.

With Wales having the highest level of child-poverty in the UK, it’s a sad thing when you could find a lot of people to answer that question.

Image result for child poverty in wales

(Image credit to Wales Online)

As Dutch Historian and proponent of Universal Basic Income Rutger Bregman argued, ‘poverty isn’t a lack of character, it’s a lack of cash’.

As raised by Basic Income Wales, there is an immediate need for an alternative when ‘poverty is growing fastest in families where two adults are working’.

Through a Universal Basic Income in Wales, the salary provided by the State will, in the words of Mark Hooper, ‘allow people to say no to shit jobs’ that perpetuate the cycle of poverty.

With more money, there will be less financial stresses, leading to more freedom to find a better paying, more fulfilling job. At a time where automation is increasingly threatening to deskill workers, a Basic Income provides a sort of security blanket for those whose work is rendered obsolete.

 

Incentivised laziness?

We know what a lot of you are thinking.  It’s a somewhat valid concern, and one that has been brought up to us a lot concerning Basic Income.

Won’t people just become lazy if they’re given free money?   Does a Universal Basic Income incentivise laziness?

The short, and long answer is no.

Mark Hooper references the trials of a Basic Income in an impoverished area of India. Rather than sit and laze about, after a long trial period it was discovered that the majority of those who received the money reported increased entrepreneurship, work ethic and general quality of life now that their existence wasn’t dominated by the existential threat of financial insecurity.

Whilst this is a reassuring thought for those supporting a Basic Income, as Mark Hooper of Basic Income Wales pointed out, India and Wales are vastly different, and only trials in Wales could attempt to gauge the levels of success of a Basic Income.

You could also make the argument, if laziness is a focus of yours, that many people in full time employment now aren’t as productive as they’d believe.  Ask anyone working a job they hate how they pass time at work, and guaranteed there’ll be periods of wasted time.

No doubt, there’ll be people who take advantage of this ‘state salary’ and do nothing with it. But in the same way the Benefits system is a force of overwhelming good despite the odd few who take advantage, surely the benefits for the vast majority of people outweigh the negatives from a few ‘lazy’ people.

 

Has the time come?

If you’d asked the average person even five years ago about a Universal Basic Income, they’d realistically have no clue.

Ask again now, and you may get a very different answer.

Especially in light of years of Austerity and political turmoil, the idea of a Universal Basic Income is becoming more and more mainstream in the eyes of the average person in Wales. They may not like it, but they’re starting to grasp what it is and what it could mean to them.

Even among the Welsh political class, the idea of trials is gaining traction. Mark Hooper quotes Jane Dodd, Eluned Morgan, and current First Minister Mark Drakeford in stating their interest in a trial of Basic Income in Wales.

Promising views.

However, in order to conduct trials, you must first deal with the Goliath in front of you – devolving welfare to Wales.

As a result of Welsh welfare being directly legislated by Westminster, the opportunity to make a devolved stand is ruled out.

Unlike Scotland, whose devolved welfare system is currently allowing them to trial a Universal Basic Income, Wales currently remains behind

Could we see this happen?

Could Welfare be devolved?

Could a Universal Basic Income be trialed in Wales?

The momentum is there, it just needs a further push.

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