Sunday, June 13

The license was a radical success. Now let’s talk about a universal basic income | Zoe williams

WWith an estimated 188,000 job openings in the hospitality industry, bar and restaurant owners are beginning to complain about the licensing scheme, specifically, that it has made people lose the will to work. That’s unlikely: leave covered only 80% of wages, and given the struggle it is to stay afloat even with 100% of a wage package (17.4% of working households are now in poverty relative, the highest number of this century), anyone with a minimum wage would probably prefer to work over a license. Arguably the 1 million people who have left the UK since Brexit could have more to do with the labor shortage than our new collective indolence. Workers can always be found if wages and conditions are right, so looking for the answers in the shortcomings of individual characters may be a dead end.

It is interesting, however, because this is the argument that is always used against universal basic income (UBI): the radical idea of ​​replacing some or all of your means-tested benefits with a fixed tax-free, unconditional amount. and non-contributory that is granted to everyone in the country. country (including children, albeit at a reduced price and paid to parents; most models put this as a similar sum to child allowance, pre-coalition government). Why would anyone work if it wasn’t necessary? Before you get to the counterarguments, both behavioral and practical, pause to consider how radical the permission has been.

From David Cameron’s environmental agenda to Boris Johnson’s “leveling up”, it is often said that Conservatives parked their tanks on Labor lawns. It’s amazing how often they get away with it: saying what’s right at the time of the election, abandoning when it’s convenient, and, as a final trick, doing the exact opposite. What they’re really parking is a papier-mâché tank long enough for the grass to die and Labor to forget where their lawn was or how to describe it. You can’t even blame the conservatives for trying it on, just the idiots who take them seriously. As George Bush would say, fool me once …

However, the licensing scheme was different in that it actually happened. Cost real money – £ 61.3 billion – and it made a real material difference. More consequently, if he can call 60 billion pounds less than completely consistent (heck, if Rishi Sunak can, so can I), he embedded a principle of shared responsibility: if millions cannot work due to an emergency, there is a collective duty. to support them until normalcy is restored.

A parallel principle was also established: that support is not “the least you can do,” but “the most you can afford.” The Conservatives didn’t change all their jobs: sick pay was kept so low that it left people working without a license unable to isolate themselves, putting thousands of others at risk. However, here there is a scissor pressure on the public debate, with “money is not an object” from one direction and a reconfiguration of need from the other; Those who have no salary are people like us, only with less money. They are not morally compromised by dint of their difficulties. This will seriously complicate the modern benefits narrative.

Like Stewart Lansley and Howard Reed, the nation’s leading experts on UBI annotated in april Last year, the license and the pandemic in general had an almost immediate impact on perceptions of politics: 84% of the public, as well as 110 parliamentarians and peers from seven parties, supported the idea of ​​a “basic income of recovery” , while around the world there was an increase in interest in an “emergency basic income”. Spain became the first country in the world to implement a form of basic income permanently, while Hong Kong, Japan and the US have made significant one-time payments. Wales, meanwhile, has announced a pilot scheme for RBU.

The argument in favor of the UBI is as follows: the existing benefits system, devised in an era of work for life and a single breadwinner, no longer meets the needs of a population that is increasingly dependent on zero contracts. hours and short term. The fixed amount would not be so large as to skip the job, just to prevent despair. It would create upward pressure on stagnant wages, restore workers’ bargaining power, and foster innovation, education, and entrepreneurship. Several pilot studies have shown only a slight decrease in paid work, in a basic income pilot conducted in the 1970s in Manitoba, Canada, working hours only decreased among new mothers and adolescent girls.

Affordability depends on a few variables, such as the rate at which the RBU is set, how many benefits it would replace, and what other changes were made in conjunction with it. Certainly, if such a comprehensive reform of the benefit system were undertaken without taking housing costs into account, the impact would be mitigated. Such granular conversations only took place on the margins of political debate before the pandemic. It was simply considered too radical to think about, too radical even for the Labor manifestos of 2017 or 2019, although John McDonnell did speak of a UBI pilot. When you think about how its relatively moderate promise of “free broadband” was lowered, it’s understandable.

What the license has done, then, even if it was by no means universal, and was, by its own design, tested in reverse (so the more it had before, the more it has), is to take the brakes off the discussion. . More important than any of the practical objections: this would stop people from working, why give money to those who don’t need it? Won’t it weaken the competitive spirit that drives the economy? – was the wall of impossibility. That defense has now been violated and the debate can begin in earnest.

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