Social security without the surveillance


This past year has been the one when it finally came out in the open that we’re all under surveillance – on the internet, on the phone – 24 hours a day.

It certainly wasn’t news to any who have had to rely at any time on means-tested, increasingly conditional benefits in order to pay their bills. Claimants have long had to report income, bank statements, family circumstances, rent – for just a start – to several authorities, in order to top up meagre wages or have any money at all to live on. This year, both Job Seekers Allowance and Employment Support Allowance saw all the harsh conditions of the floundering Universal Credit policy brought in without the supposed salve the structure of UC is claimed to be.

Registration on Universal Jobmatch, the government website contracted out to Monster – is now mandatory. With its scam, zero-hour contract, and even sex work advertisements, this website would be a perfect joke if its Big Brother/Kafkaesque interface didn’t threaten real people’s lives with identity theft and other abuses of personal data daily. Then there’s the stress of being monitored in real time by Job Centre officials and bullied on to workfare placements which lead nowhere…I could go on.

Also this year, however, a positive solution has reemerged which would put an end to this colossal waste of human time, energy and ingenuity: Unconditional Basic Income (UBI). It is an old idea which has bobbed up over the centuries, now made far more urgent by the speed at which technology is eliminating jobs, and the general drop in wages. Unconditional Basic Income is a regular payment which is universal, individual, unconditional and high enough to ensure an existence in dignity and participation in society.

Last January a European Citizens Initiative (ECI) for UBI was launched. If it gathers one million signatures across Europe, the European Commission will have to research and debate different forms of this regular payment to everybody, and different ways of paying for it. Ultimately this would encourage politicians in all countries to take the policy, one supported by Falkvinge but often decried as ‘impossible’, more seriously and boost efforts in many countries to get it implemented.

In October the Swiss were successful with a Popular Initiative which directly demands a basic income and will see a national referendum soon. Even before its finish this ECI, along with the Swiss initiative, has already inspired an unprecedented amount of coverage of UBI in the mainstream press and discussions in the blogosphere. It has also attracted support from 33 MEPs, and over 230,000 people Europe-wide.

We’re in the final days now – in recognition of all the unpaid creativity which has gone into the internet, in defiance of creeping state (and private) surveillance, corruption and bureaucracy – please sign the European Citizens Initiative for Unconditional Basic Income . Share it far and wide this weekend, the last day is this Tuesday 14 January (23.59pm). Whatever form UBI takes, it will be a step towards a better future.

Barb Jacobson
Basic Income UK

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