Monday, December 28, 2015

Why 2016 is going to be a big year for the Basic Income movement


When I first started writing about the subject of Basic Income in 2013 the topic was very niche. Since then the Basic Income movement has picked up some significant momentum.

In this article I'm going to provide a few useful resources and then detail some of the most important recent Basic Income developments.


Resources

Basic Income is the idea that absolute poverty can be alleviated by providing every member of a society with an unconditional subsistence income. Beside the reduction in absolute poverty one of the main benefits of such a system is that anyone who chooses to work is always better off because their work related income is not subtracted from their welfare payments creating extraordinarily high rates of marginal taxation for the low paid as is currently the current welfare policy in the UK.

My first article on Basic Income was this introduction to the subject. I have also written this one about the labour market consequences of Basic Income provision, and this one comparing Basic Income with the current UK social security system.

If you want to keep up with the latest Basic Income news then it's worth following Basic Income Europe (Facebook/Twitter) and checking out the Basic Income Earth Network website.

Recent global developments

Finland
You may have heard talk that Finland is going to introduce a Basic Income payment of 800€ for all citizens, but this story has been severely over-exaggerated by elements of the UK press. What is actually happening is the establishment of Basic Income trials in Finland as a result of the Finnish government's adoption of evidence based policy (something else I've been advocating for many years). Essentially the Finnish government is planning to conduct a large scale Basic Income cost-benefit analysis. You can read more about the developments in Finland here.

Netherlands
Another major development is the announcement of a kind of Basic Income trial in the Dutch city of Utrecht. What is being done there is not a full-scale Basic Income trial because the payments will only be made to the unemployed, however it will be useful in determining if unemployed people are more likely to go out and find work if they get to keep everything they earn rather than having the majority of their earnings subtracted from their benefits as is the case under . Here's a recent article on the Utrecht experiment.

Spain
The Political party Podemos was only founded in March 2014, yet after the Spanish General Election in December 2015 it is now the third biggest party in the Spanish parliament, provides the mayors of Madrid and Barcelona and has a social media following twice as big as all of the other parties in Spain combined! Podemos support the concept of Basic Income, and if their exponential rise in popularity and influence continues, it seems only a matter of time before they enter government, meaning Basic Income would well and truly be on the agenda in Spanish politics.

Switzerland
The long awaited Swiss referendum on the introduction of a Basic Income payment for all Swiss citizens is due in the autumn of 2016. The Swiss political establishment are clearly terrified by the concept (voting 146 to 14 against the idea). Right-wing politicians queued up to spew furious fearmongering rhetoric against Basic Income, describing it as "the most dangerous and harmful initiative ever", "a bomb at the heart of our society and our economy" and a "hand grenade that threatens to tear the whole system apart". Despite the Swiss political establishment's campaign of fearmongering against the idea of eliminating absolute poverty through the introduction of a Basic Income scheme, opinion polls show that public opinion is still quite evenly divided on the subject.

Canada
The Liberal Party won an astonishing election victory, recovering from their worst performance ever in 2011 to win an absolute majority on an anti-austerity platform in 2015. One of the many progressive pre-election policy resolutions is the implementation of a Basic Income scheme for all Canadians. In December 2015 Kingston, Ontario became the first municipality to endorse Basic Income and call on the federal government to develop the measure at the national level. It's unlikely that such a bold progressive proposal would be implemented at the national level without a huge amount of pressure on the Liberal Party leadership, however the fact that Basic Income is on the agenda at all in Canada is definitely a noteworthy development.

Developments in the UK


Considering developments in other countries, the subject of Basic Income is still somewhat in the shadows in the UK. The Green Party are still the only significant UK party to put Basic Income as one of their headline policy proposals. There are Basic Income advocates within the SNP and the Liberal Democrats, but Basic Income was not mentioned in either of their 2015 manifestos. The Labour Party don't advocate Basic Income either, but the new leader Jeremy Corbyn has appointed the Basic Income advocate Richard Murphy as one of his economic advisers.

While the subject of Basic Income seems to have gained little traction within the UK political establishment, it is gaining more recognition elsewhere. Even though several of the recent articles about Basic Income trials in the UK press have been somewhat inaccurate in their claims, it's still notable that the subject is being written about in most of the mainstream newspapers.

It's also worth noting that the RSA have started advocating for Basic Income, as have the innovation charity Nesta.


Conclusion

Basic Income looks set to become one of the big political topics of 2016. If the trials in Finland and the Netherlands are as successful as previous Basic Income trials in demonstrating reductions in poverty, increased entrepreneurship, increased worker productivity, reduced domestic violence etc ... then advocates of Basic Income will have even more hard evidence to argue their case. The Swiss Basic Income referendum towards the end of 2016 is likely to attract a significant amount of press coverage, especially if the Swiss political establishment continue trying to polarise the debate with their policy of transparently alarmist fearmongering. 


Whether the Swiss referendum on Basic Income is successful or not, public awareness of the concept is set to increase dramatically over the coming year. In my view it's only a matter of time before Basic Income schemes become commonplace. When people look back they'll recognise 2015-16 as the period when the Basic Income movement really began to gain traction.
   
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