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Basic Income as the key to resolving welfare and work challenges

Basic Income provides the key to resolving major challenges that changes to welfare and work have brought in the twenty first century.   It has the potential to reduce bureaucracy dramatically and increase respect for care work while promoting entrepreneurship and engagement with education, among other things.

At Social Justice Ireland’s annual policy conference a range of speakers from Ireland and abroad addressed various aspects of Basic Income.  Details were provided of experiments in Finland (at a national level) and the Netherlands (focused on twelve cities) while various proposals for introducing a Basic Income in Ireland and the UK were also discussed.  

Basic Income is a payment from the State to every resident on an individual basis, without any means test or work requirement.  A full Basic Income would be sufficient to live a frugal but decent lifestyle without supplementary income from paid employment.  

Details of a fully-costed Basic Income for Ireland were presented at the conference by Eamon Murphy and Seán Ward.  This paper showed that a Basic Income of €150 a week could be paid to everyone of working age in Ireland (with a top-up of €38 a week for those actively seeking employment). This would be combined with a higher Basic Income for all older people equivalent to the contributory old-age pension and a payment for all children equivalent to the level of Child Benefit.  This system would eliminate most of the current welfare system but would be combined with a Social Solidarity Fund to cover special needs. It could be financed by a flat tax of 40% and a slight increase in employers’ PRSI (still far lower than the UK rate or the EU average).

An alternative approach would see the introduction of a Partial Basic Income for Ireland by transforming personal tax credits into a cash payment to all adults.  This would give everyone a payment of €3,300 per year and would require no changes in the tax or welfare systems.  Details of this proposal were set out by Michael Taft of Unite the Union.  He argued that this should be combined with an increased focus on the social wage and a reduction in the hours worked each week.

A third approach presented at the conference by Ronan Lyons of Trinity College would see a Partial Basic Income introduced as a universal housing subsidy. This would have a very positive effect on people’s access to housing which currently is one of Ireland’s greatest challenges.

Michelle Murphy of Social Justice Ireland analysed five different pathways to a Basic income for Ireland.  She set out details of a five-year transition pathway which would move Ireland from its current situation to having a full Basic Income system.

The major challenges we face regarding the changing nature of work, adequate income, funding public services, the challenges to the social contract and the social wage posed by global tax avoidance were discussed at the conference. 

Participants heard that public policy should now focus on delivering seven core rights for everyone i.e. sufficient income, meaningful work, real participation, appropriate accommodation, relevant education, essential healthcare and cultural respect.  A review of the current situation presented at the conference showed these rights are not available to a great many EU citizens. 

Given recent political developments in the UK and the US it is essential that we in the EU face up to the need for change if large numbers of people are not to be excluded.  Basic Income is a key component of a future where these core rights are available in practice to all.

The papers presented the conference are available here.