Love and Basic Income

Love and Basic Income

When it comes to discussing public policy it is strange that we find it to so hard to talk about love. We all know that love matters. You do not need to have any particular faith or religious belief to notice that the world is full of people seeking love, making love, finding love and losing love. Films, books, tv and even the smallest attention to our own thought processes must leave most of us aware that love matters.

But public policy tends to focus on the economics, jobs, the state, deprivation and need. It almost feels like public policy is putting on some big tough-man front:

Don’t talk to me about all that fluffy love stuff - public policy is a man’s game. Show me the money! Show me the stats! These are the things that matter to me.

It is so strange isn’t it. Take love out of the world and you have no lovers, no children, no families, no communities and no purpose. Take love out of public policy and you are one-eyed, like a monstrous cyclops, crashing around and tearing people apart.

Recently I discussed these issues in a long philosophical paper about the welfare state called Love and Welfare. I argued that after World War II, in the UK and in other Western societies, welfare states developed that were typically:

  1. Paternalistic - functioning like giant state-run charities
  2. Negative - defining people by their needs, not by their gifts
  3. Materialistic -expecting too little from people and from life
  4. Meritocratic - centralising power and treating people with disrespect
  5. Individualistic - undermining the role of the family and community

I went onto argue that we need a more loveable version of the welfare state, a welfare state that promotes love, is inspired by love and one which people will defend because they love it (Duffy, 2016). Not an easy challenge.

I also argue that a citizen’s basic income is one of the ideas that should be at the heart of such a new and loveable version of the welfare state; and here I want to explore the relationship between love and basic income in a little more detail.

It is rightly argued that people should have a right to a basic income because people have an unconditional human right to exist (Raventos, 2007). The worry is that when we put things in this way, asserting our rights, we don’t recognise that in reality these rights only exist because people have certain duties. But what is duty? What should we do? The philosopher Immanuel Kant observed:

…the concept of duty, which includes that of a good will, exposed however, to certain subjective limitations and obstacles.

Or, to put that in plainer terms, doing our duty is doing what we should do from love, even when we don’t feel love. Duty is love, when love’s gone cold.

The real reason for giving someone a basic income is that this is what love demands. We should give each other our daily bread.

Looking at things from the perspective of love also explains many of the other features of basic income:

  • Love hates stigma - it doesn’t want a person in need to feel worse or inferior, it wants to lift them up and make them feel an equal.
  • Love sees potential - it knows that everyone has value and wants to encourage contribution and encourage development.
  • Love wants love - it seeks to connect people in all the different kinds of possible relationship: as friends, colleagues, family, citizens and lovers.

This also touches on one of the most challenging questions that people can ask about basic income: What will be its impact on families and on relationships?

The honest truth is that we do not know exactly what will happen to relationships if we were to adopt a system of basic income. It is also important to pay attention to this issue, for love and family are at the heart of every society. However we do know that the current system is working very badly for many people.

Today people who rely on benefits and tax credits are disadvantaged if they choose to start living together or get married (Duffy & Dalrymple, 2014). Moreover they are severely punished if they choose to put together the benefits they get as single people but don’t let the DWP know they’ve started to share their lives together (Duffy & Hyde, 2011). This means millions of people have to choose between love and income, and millions of people feel that the state is monitoring their personal life choices. This is a very unhealthy state of affairs, where the welfare state has become like nosy and interfering parent - checking up on their children’s love lives and punishing them if they hook up with anyone they don’t like.

Even for those not relying on benefits and tax credits the system is not fair. Parenting is not treated as the most important social responsibility that exists; instead it is treated as time ‘off work’. Caring is not respected as the bedrock of our health and care system (which is what it is); instead it is treated as just another ‘need’ which must be assessed and then inadequately supported by the highly rationed care system.

Then, we also have all those (mostly women) who live in fear of their partner, but who also do not have the means to set up on their own or to take care of their children. Dependency like this does not help grow relationships of love.

Basic income, depending on how it works, could liberate people to strengthen their relationships, and it could nurture greater love in our communities. It is certainly a more loving way to treat each other. It should be central to a more loveable, and hence defensible, welfare state.

Duffy S (2016) Love and Welfare. Sheffield: Centre for Welfare Reform.

Duffy S & Dalrymple J (2014) Let’s Scrap the DWP. Sheffield: Centre for Welfare Reform.

Duffy S & Hyde C (2011) Women at the Centre. Sheffield: Centre for Welfare Reform.

Kant I (1991) The Metaphysics of Morals. Cambridge: CUP.

Raventos D (2007) Basic Income: the material condition of freedom. London: Pluto Press.


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