By Jason Michael

A Universal Basic Income is in the pipeline for a trial in Fife. People, regardless of how much they earn, will get an annual basic sum in cash to spend as they please. Experiments over the past forty years have shown that it works. Lucky Fife.

We’re all getting poorer. As it is the economy pretty much everywhere is structured in a way that benefits a tiny minority of the global population, leaving the rest of us to work for a living with stagnant wages in an environment where the cost of living is rising. What was once the dream of science fiction is increasingly becoming reality; smart technology is doing more of the jobs we used to do, giving people free time they can ill afford. Employers are selling the idea that flexi-time and zero-hours contracts suit workers better because these arrangements give us the free time we have always wanted, but there’s a catch – we have less money to spend.

Governments don’t want to broadcast the fact that the majority of people receiving state benefits are the underemployed and the underpaid – the working poor. This trend towards weaker employment contracts, fewer hours, de-unionisation, and lower pay has been developing for a few decades, and right now, all around the developed world, we are reaching crisis point. Here in Scotland this shift in the economy has put an unbearable weight on the welfare system. It is exactly the same story in England and Wales, and the Westminster government knows that it can’t go on blaming the victims for much longer. We have cottoned on to the massive wealth transfer from the bottom to the top, and we’re not going to let them off with it for much longer. Something has to give.

One answer is actually quite simple – give everyone free money. Sounds good, doesn’t it? It’s not a trick. It’s not quantitative easing or any other such financial black magic, it’s a simple strategy for redistributing wealth from an economy designed to benefit the few so as it make things fairer for everyone. The idea is that we scrap the entire benefits system and give everyone – regardless of their income – a basic annual minimum in cash. In multiple studies basic income trials have had incredible results; enabling people on welfare to move into the labour market without fear of losing earnings, reducing food poverty and homelessness, and even improving the mental health of participants. What is more, with a reduced state welfare bill and less bureaucracy it costs the taxpayer less money.

In one Canadian trial – the MINCOME experiment (1973) – it was concluded that “a Guaranteed Annual Income, implemented broadly in society, may improve health and social outcomes at the community level.” That was forty-three years ago, and every other trial since then has shown almost the exact same results. It was also shown that the fear that people would simply take the money and stop working was unfounded. It turns out that most people still prefer to work – the difference being that they are not forced into highly exploitative, low status McJobs. So to hear that a basic income trial is being considered for Fife with a view to rolling it out to the rest of Scotland is an exciting prospect.

Inequality Media: Universal Basic Income

Author: Jason Michael (@Jeggit)

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