Without opportunity there can be no social or individual wellbeing. Opportunity to be educated, to work (both paid and unpaid), to create a home, to develop relationships: these are all necessary to a flourishing community in which everyone can participate, and where these opportunities do not exist, then poverty is the result.
We have seen enormous strides in the distribution of opportunity during the past century: in education, training, health and safety at work, racial and sexual equality, public health, healthcare, and housing quality. However, we dare not stand still, for in a fast-changing world we must constantly create new opportunities, for only by doing that will we be able to abolish poverty of all kinds, and keep it abolished.
The UK’s healthcare and education systems, free at the point of use (even if increasingly provided by the private sector), are essential universal underpinnings of opportunity, and where these do not exist opportunities are severely restricted. Similarly, the universal franchise and equality before the law are essential foundations for everyone’s opportunity to take part in the creation of justice.
But why exempt income from this general conviction that equal opportunity is good for society? Why provide healthcare, education, and the vote on a universal and non-withdrawable basis, and not the most basic requirement of a community: money to live on? i A high equal income, as a right, might prove something of a disincentive to seek employment, and might make it difficult to get essential work done, but Sir Ralf Dahrendorf made the point that an equal foundational income is as necessary to a civil society as is equality before the law. ii A relatively small Citizen’s Income would not damage incentives to seek or create paid employment – indeed, it would increase them. A Citizen’s Income should therefore be provided on the same basis as free healthcare and education and argued for in the same way: that equality of opportunity is the way to justice and wealth, both individual and corporate.
If we regard the provision of opportunity through education and healthcare for all to be essential to a civilised society, then should we not also regard it as essential to provide that most basic of all foundations of opportunity: an income to live on?
i R.H. Tawney, Equality, 5th edn, George Allen and Unwin, 1964 (first published in 1931), p 86
ii Ralf Dahrendorf, ‘Can it happen?’, an interview with Susan Raven, BIRG Bulletin, no.13, Citizen’s Income Trust, London, August 1991, pp 12–13.
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101 Reasons for a Citizen’s Income offers a short, accessible introduction to the debate on a Citizen’s Income, showing how a universal, unconditional income for every citizen would solve problems facing the UK’s benefits system, tackle poverty, and improve social cohesion and economic efficiency. For anyone new to the subject, or who wants to introduce friends, colleagues or relatives to the idea, 101 Reasons for a Citizen’s Income is the book to open up debate around the topic. Drawing on arguments detailed in Money for everyone (Policy Press, 2013), it offers a convincing case for a Citizen’s Income and a much needed resource for all interested in the future of welfare in the UK.