Universal Basic Income: The Cornerstone of a Just Society?

Social Security

On a cold January day, the room of about 60 people was buzzing towards the end of Karl Widerquist’s talk on Universal Basic Income: The Cornerstone of a Just Society at the SSM/MMU event on January 30th 2017. Later that same week World Basic Income http://www.worldbasicincome.org.uk/ held its first conference in Salford and the themes of social justice, freedom and poverty alleviation were all discussed again, taking up issues of distributive justice, a return to the commons and the need to have a world-wide system.

Karl Widerquist and SSM’s Judith Emanuel and Carolyn Kagan

Karl Widerquist and SSM’s Judith Emanuel and Carolyn Kagan

Karl answered, amongst other things, the challenge of why people should get ‘something for nothing’ by suggesting that a basic income could be seen as compensation for the ways in which land and resources had been taken into private hands: we can no longer provide for ourselves and our families, or even build our own homes as land, property and natural resources are now owned – usually by someone else! Whilst this now seems so natural to us, we don’t even think about how it is that (most of us) work for others, doing what we are told and taking what pay we are offered. UBI presents an opportunity to take back some control over how we spend time and on what. Those who own the resources, he suggested, have a duty to compensate the rest of us.

Of course his message was considerably more complex than this and you can read more of his work at https://georgetown.academia.edu/KarlWiderquist or see the Basic Income Earth Network site http://basicincome.org .

But what do those who attended our event in January think? One person said afterwards that it had made her think differently about her work as a community organiser and of the links between poverty and social justice. We asked people what interests them in the idea of UBI; how their or others’ lives might change if UBI were introduced; and whether they thought there were alternatives to UBI that might achieve the same outcomes in eliminating poverty and enabling people to have more choice over the work they do.

People came from lots of different walks of life. Yet there was wide agreement that the promise of UBI lay in the combination of liberty and social justice; in freeing people from the shame and sanctions associated with poverty; the potential to eliminate destitution; its ability to free people from the shackles of precarious work; and to take account of ways in which technology has altered the world of work and how people relate to each other.

If UBI were in place, people thought there would be less anxiety and worry; people would get on with each other better and be happier and overall, society would be better with the stigma of poverty being a thing of the past.

UBI was thought to be a relatively simple idea (but a complex one to actually introduce). Whilst a number of alternatives could be thought up, most agreed none would produce such wide ranging changes, not only on people’s lives but on reducing prejudice and increasing happiness.

Wouldn’t you and yours want a guaranteed income throughout your lifetime? The idea is gaining momentum in Scotland https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/jan/01/universal-basic-income-trials-being-considered-in-scotland and Glasgow’s Council has just committed funds to explore the idea https://www.thersa.org/about-us/media/2017/rsa-launches-study-on-universal-basic-income-trial-in-glasgow . Where will be the first place in Greater Manchester?

First published by Steady State Manchester