Citizen’s Income – an idea too idealistic to take seriously or one whose time has come?
For those who may be hearing about a Citizen’s Income for the first time, it is a non-taxable, non-means tested, unconditional, regular income paid to every UK citizen regardless of whether they are in or out of work. It will replace most, but not all, benefits, but most importantly it is a secure income for everyone regardless of circumstances. It is to provide a stable degree of economic security throughout the different stages of one’s life.
The Citizen’s Income has been Green Party policy since the Party’s beginning. Members in North East England have taken it off the shelf, got it back on the agenda for updating and costing, and are beginning a discussion about how to present it in a way which provides a realistic solution to the many issues and concerns that people have about their own economic situation.
At a meeting on the issue in October 2014, a dozen or so North East Green Party members got together to talk about how to present the Citizen’s Income, and to discuss the kinds of objections which would be raised against it and the positive arguments for it.
The cost of the Citizen’s Income and the assumption that some people would take advantage of it were seen as the most obvious objections, together with the concern that employers would take advantage of it by reducing wages because people would have a basic income. Against these arguments there were many positives: it would get rid of the poverty trap, it would promote social cohesion because being universal no one could be accused of being a so-called ‘scrounger’ for receiving it, and it would give people more choice in the type of paid work, training and education they engage in. This is very important these days when increasing numbers of people are being forced into part-time, temporary and insecure employment. The Citizen’s Income would provide an important foundation for the kind of ‘portfolio’ paid working lives which more and more people are likely to have in the future.
It was agreed that the Citizen’s Income cannot be planned or introduced in isolation from other Green Party policies. There needs to be discussions about the future of jobs, and what we mean by ‘work’ by exploring the value of unpaid activity and its contribution to community and social life; we need a housing policy which addresses the lack of affordable, energy-efficient homes; we need an employment policy which ensures that wages are not forced down and that employment rights are protected. We need more discussion within the Green Party about the impact of a Citizen’s Income on our consumer society and economy, what unforeseen consequences there might be, and to make sure that all policies are mutually compatible.
And finally, what should we call this policy? In Europe it is called a Basic Income (see Basic Income: The Movie) because it would provide a foundation upon which people can build their lives. There are arguments for calling it the Universal Basic Income because the notion of universality is so important. But in our discussions the majority were in favour of keeping it as the Citizen’s Income because it implies both rights and responsibilities of citizenship, recognizing our relationship with others and with the community.
We are going to continue our discussions about the Citizen’s Income and encourage other local groups and organisations to invite us to speak about it. We urge other Local Green Parties to do the same and join in the discussion.
The Citizen’s Income: an idea too idealistic to take seriously or one whose time has come? Our answer in North East England: Its time has come. Let’s start making it a real possibility.
North East England Green Party: Penny Remfry, Alison Whalley