Greens’ Basic Income is actually a good idea

I have written many times before that a universal Living Wage is a really bad idea, primarily because it would cause inflation which would render it pointless (that is not to say that applying it in specific areas – for example requiring companies qualifying for lower Corporation Tax in Northern Ireland to pay it – is not worth considering).

The Greens in England and Wales have instead put forward the idea of a “Basic Income”. Their Leader, Natalie Bennett, was somewhat embarrassed on the subject when she was unable to come up with anything approaching the means to pay for it on the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme, but that does not make it a bad idea. In fact, a Basic Income is a much better idea than a Living Wage (no doubt the Greens would support both, but let’s just leave it as an “either/or” for now).

My old friend Sam Bowman explains how it could work. Essentially, it is a “negative income tax”, ensuring that everyone earns the Basic Income but also that anyone who earns above it receives more income for so doing. It would also render out-of-work benefits and income support unnecessary, as the Basic Income would already cover them. As Sam says, the exact rate at which you would set it and the type of additional welfare for people with disabilities or long-term conditions would have to be considered. However, fundamentally the idea is sound – and actually affordable. Not for the first time, the Greens have a good idea in theory that they struggle with in practice – but there is time yet before 7 May!


9 thoughts on “Greens’ Basic Income is actually a good idea

  1. andyboal says:

    The problem I see is that it could be seen as yet another subsidy for low wages and low hours, not unlike working and family tax credits now, and potentially increasing the number of people on zero hours contracts.

    • There’s a legitimate argument to be had about whether that’s a good or a bad thing.

      The work I myself do for the Health Service is zero-hours. But it suits me and them and gets it done efficiently. That’s not the only example in my own work.

      The notion of a 9-5 job and a single-profession career is increasingly fantasy with the rise of the East. Whatever we do, we can’t just ignore that.

      • andyboal says:

        On the other hand, that’s different because you’re not trying to get a full time job out of the Health Service, partly because of the smorgasbord of what you do (and I’m guessing that your Health Service work is pretty much on an “as it suits when something needs done” basis for both you and them).

        Other people not only would like to work full time but can only get limited guaranteed hours, and second and third jobs to make up the hours and money are nearly impossible to get due to hours worked.

        The argument is that employers can and are using state benefits as an excuse to only pay minimum wage, because, sure, the staff are ok, the state will see them right, isn’t that what in-work benefits such as working tax credits are for?

        (of course, that ignores the Tories stopping WTC for people who could not get more than 24 hours’ work each week, but that’s a whole other story…)

      • Don’t disagree with that, but targeting “zero hours contracts” is missing the point entirely.

        The issue is skills in the right area. If you gave those, you’ll soon get the type of contract you’re referring to.

        Zero hours contracts are very good, however, for side jobs offering top-up income (as in my case), delivering some services efficiently, and also for starter jobs offering experience to get on the ladder. To do away with them, therefore, would be stark raving madness and would yet again penalise young people and make some public services nigh undeliverable.

      • andyboal says:

        I may one day benefit from a zero hours contract to give me odd bits of work at an agreed rate when it suits me, of course, and that is a proper use and a reason not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

        The problem arising is how do we effectively tackle abuses of zero hours and limited hours contracts where staff are either expected to be exclusively available to their employer but with no guarantee of work to be paid for, or where they effectively do a full time working week every week but the employer only gives leave paid at the pro rata rate for their contracted hours?

      • Agreed. I don’t know, is the honest answer to that – but at least that poses the right question!

  2. […] now back-pedalling by suggesting they cannot be implemented soon. Yet ideas such as a Basic Income could be implemented immediately, if only the Greens were willing to take advice and step outside the confines of the populist […]

  3. andyboal says:

    Unfortunately the right question is not a very popular thing in politics!

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