Basic Income UK takes part in UBI Week 2014

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During a week of talks that gathered people in 10 different European countries organised by advocacy group Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN),  a new UK activist cell called UK Basic Income met on September 16th to announce it’s mission statement.

The UK group is targeting a simple, universal tax benefit that would permanently free the UK’s poor from inability to meet basic needs like rent and food.

A living wage could allow the government to break with an ineffective welfare model that places emphasis on assessing need and obtaining work no matter what the conditions,  freeing low-paid workers from abusive contracts.

The launch of the UBI  statement which begins “We demand freedom from fear” was followed by an open public discussion about a basic income could help people in a range of circumstances, and different ideas about how to pay for it. The UK group takes the approach that the only kind of basic income that it accepts is a full living wage.

The UK still has a long way to go before either of the two main parties, Tories and Labour, accept the tenant which has already spread like wildfire through Europe, gaining a referendum in Switzerland.

A local Basic Income expert, Dr. Louise Anne Haag,  a Reader of Politics of York University,  explained on Reddit, a Basic Income campaign in the UK will need raise public awareness in order to succeed, in a country that is less familiar with ‘socialised economics.’

The current UK welfare system, which both targets and ‘traps’ the poorest, is in dire need of reform, as it offers disincentives to benefits users in finding well-paid work, while at the same time it claims to encourage them to find work, she says.

“There has already been considerable reform of benefits to end the so-called ‘poverty trap’ whereby recipients of income assistance have low incentives to take jobs (as they lose their benefits). In fact the whole benefit system is in a process of being simplified with several benefits being run together into a single payment, and alongside this employers have to report workers’ earnings much more frequently than they used to, supposedly leading to the existing benefit system ‘following’ the more flexible labour market in the UK.

“The biggest problem in the UK is that the labour market has lost the capacity to give low earners a decent and stable wage, and even stable hours, with the increasing use of so-called zero-hour contracts, whereby employers do not have to guarantee a minimum or stable number of hours. This locks individuals into the service of employers without real reciprocity. ”

“There has been instances in which councils have allegedly conditioned continued receipts of benefits on taking work on these kinds of contracts. ”

The current conservative government has done more to fund campaigns to track down and penalize benefits claimants than to offer aid, however. “Unfortunately, however, all this has gone along with a strong punitive language vis-a-vis benefit claimants, as well as ever more stringent conditions on searching for and taking jobs on the pain of losing rights to assistance,” said Haag.

“I think the more cautious models whereby BI is introduced via the tax or benefits system, somehow, gradually will be more likely to be acceptable to mainstream politicians and the public.

“There is great regional inequality in the UK, as well as between households, including in the sense that there is a significant minority of households where contact with the labour market has been minimal across one or two generations. As the welfare state has been eroded for the middle class and gradually targeted more at the poor, there is unfortunately now quite a divisive discourse around income support policies in general in the UK that is not generally favourable for BI.”

Louise Haagh is a world poverty, labour studies and social policy specialist at at the Politics Department of the University of York, where she is now a Reader.

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