Bring in a Citizens Income for a better fairer society
I am an enthusiastic supporter of the idea of a Citizens Income. The New Statesman recently outlined the costs and benefits for this in the UK:
Analysing figures from the 2012-13 financial year, the cost of such a scheme is projected at around £276bn per year – just £1bn more than the annual welfare budget that year –making the implementation of a citizen’s income close to revenue and cost neutral. Disability and housing benefits would remain intact, but the scheme would replace all other benefits including child benefits, income support and jobseeker’s allowance, national insurance and state pensions. Included in the current annual spend figures is £8bn in Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) administration and £2bn in HMRC tax credit administration and write-offs.
I first heard of the idea of citizens income as one of the Green Party’s policies, and like many my first reaction was pretty sceptical about how it could function - I think most people don’t react well to the idea to giving money to people with no strings attached; my concern was more about giving money to everyone, including those who really don’t need more money. As I’ve learnt more about the idea though, both those “issues” and many others are addressed, and I’ve come to see citizens income as one of the best ideas on the political table.
In short the citizens income would be a regular payment to all citizens of a country, with no conditions at all. Every adult would get the same, while a lesser amount would go to parents for each child they care for, and a higher amount would go to pensioners. And that’s because it would replace just about every single benefit there is, jobseekers allowance, pensions, tax credits, child benefit. In doing so you immediately wipe out vast layers of (expensive) bureaucracy deciding who should and should not get different benefits, and the tangled web of judgement that comes with it all. To counter the problem of rich people getting more money than they need you simply adjust the tax brackets to compensate.
The benefits are numerous. Immediately everyone has at least enough to get by; you can eat and just about pay the bills. But it’s not going to deliver the lifestyle even the most frugal of us aspire to, so there would still be all the incentive you need to work, in order to have the freedom to live and act as you please. It does make sure no one is forced into lives of utter poverty by falling off the bottom of the current benefits system, and is a buffer for those on lower wages. It also makes sure those people who are productive in society, but not through work, while raising children, or caring, or whatever else, have at least something to get by on.
Meanwhile it changes the entire working world. The pressure to work “full time” diminishes, so people feel they can afford to work slightly fewer hours, and in the process gain a much improved work/life balance. That same freedom and flexibility could spur innovation and entrepreneurialism; if you have an idea that cushion effect means you can pull back from regular work and spend the time developing a great invention, beautiful art, or volunteering your time to the wider community.
It seems to me an almost perfect system; it’s very simple to administer, it makes society more cohesive by starting everyone off on an equal basis, and removing the stigma of being on benefits. Plus it protects the poorest and undervalued, and has the potential to make a happier more creative, innovative, and relaxed society.