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Basic Income - The Time is Now

On the 23rd January 2018, the Council of Europe voted in favour of a resolution to adopt a Universal Basic Income with a 52 per cent majority reportedly based on a resolution adopted by the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development in December 2017 which defines universal basic income as: universal, individual, unconditional and sufficient to ensure living in dignity and participation in society, a basic income would relieve absolute poverty whilst removing disincentives to work (as it is not withdrawn when the person earns other revenue).

Social Justice Ireland welcomes this development.  We have consistently argued for the introduction of a basic income system which:

  • is paid to individuals rather than households;
  • is paid irrespective of any income from other sources;
  • is paid without conditions; it does not require the performance of any work or the willingness to accept a job if offered one; and
  • is always tax free.

The definition adopted by the Council of Europe is consistent with Social Justice Ireland’s proposal, a proposal that is especially relevant at the present moment of economic upheaval.  A universal basic income system would replace social welfare and income tax credits. It would guarantee an income above the poverty line for everyone. It would not be means tested. There would be no 'signing on' and no restrictions or conditions. In practice, a basic income recognises the right of every person to a share of the resources of society.

The universal basic income system ensures that looking for a paid job and earning an income, or increasing one's income while in employment, is always worth pursuing, because for every euro earned the person will retain a large part. It thus removes poverty traps and unemployment traps in the present system. Furthermore, women and men would receive equal payments in a basic income system. Consequently, the basic income system promotes gender equality because it treats every person equally.

Social Justice Ireland’s Social Policy Conference 2016, entitled ‘Basic Income: Radical Utopia or Practical Solution?’  included our paper ‘Costing a Basic Income for Ireland’.   The publication following that conference includes this paper which provides detailed calculations and outlining the benefits of the proposal, such as:

  • The system proposed would be far more easily administered, given the reduced number of payment types and the universality of payments. There would be a much-reduced need for means-testing and other time-consuming tasks, reducing the cost of administering the welfare system. 
  • A conservative estimate, given the number of programmes that would be halted altogether, might be that administration costs would be cut in half;
  • It would eliminate the poverty traps inherent in traditional means tested welfare systems. Employment is always worth pursuing, as it would be received in addition to money earned through employment, rather than withdrawn. It is also untaxed;
  • Welfare fraud would be more-or-less eliminated, as payment of Universal Basic Income is not contingent on employment status or means;
  • Universal Basic Income respects and rewards all forms of work, not just paid employment. Caring work, home duties, and child-rearing – all socially and economically imperative work – would receive additional recognition under this system;
  • It would assist in alleviating poverty, and with payments being universal, there would be no stigmatisation for recipients;
  • It would be good for the environment, as it facilitates a society and an economy that does not have full paid employment as an overarching goal. Full employment relies on ever-expanding GDP growth, which conflicts with our concerns for the environment. Universal Basic Income would reduce the extent to which the ability to live life with dignity is tied to labour market participation by a member of the household.

The benefits of a Universal Basic Income system are recognised across Europe and internationally.  It's time is NOW.