Imagine Valuing Everyone

Now that the government has realised the importance of ensuring everyone losing their source of income has their basic financial needs met in this Covid19 crisis, perhaps the recent rush to reassess and legislate for a minimum payment could have been avoided, had government heeded the call for a basic income. Imagine a basic financial floor below which nobody can fall. Imagine valuing everyone.

I will tell a personal story to explain a little about the logic for a basic income. When I sat on NESC, the National Economic Social Council, I was part of a discussion around enabling 2 very disadvantaged communities. I was very irritated by the attitude of some of the officials. They just didn’t seem to understand the reality of life for disadvantaged people, or the fact that everyone should be valued and given an equal footing.

I decided to focus on a couple of factors. When it got to me I explained how the bureaucratic need to label people was detrimental to people and the system. I listed all the labels I had gone through in my adult life while associated with the revenue and social welfare systems. They included Disabled Person, PAYE worker, Spouse, One Parent Family, Job Seeker and at that time Dependent upon an Invalid. There were 8 changes in total. Each one required a mountain of paperwork. Each one assured a basic income whether that be a tax credit or a basic welfare payment. Effectively the same thing to the exchequer.

I also pointed out that our country would be on it’s knees were it not for the volunteers in society. I suggested that a basic income would cut through the bureaucracy and value everyone for the role they play. It would just replace the base level of the tax system allowing people work on top of it as normal.

There seemed to be a fear that people wouldn’t bother working. Why would this be any different to the existing social welfare payment? If anything it may encourage people to work because the current welfare system is a poverty trap you daren’t raise your head above for fear of losing a vital support that enables you to go back to work in the first place. The medical card for example. If I started a low income job I couldn’t afford the school bus or college fees when my children are old enough.

However, If I were on a low income job or starting a business while in receipt of a basic income I would pay tax on the income and may or may not qualify for an income supplement or medical card. As my income increases I would become less dependent upon the state.

The Secretary General of one department took umbrage and addressed me wondering what I meant about labels keeping people in a rut. He also questioned my claim that volunteers keep the country going. My response to him was that many people labeled “Dependent upon an Invalid” may never recover from the implication that they were somehow less value than an Invalid. It’s a psychological reaction that I was lucky enough to overcome. I also asked him how many people, including civil servants, could work because someone else was providing meals on wheels to their parents or looking after them in a day care centre?

A basic income would cut out the need for validating every different label. It would level the playing field to some degree. It would also demonstrate that we value our volunteers, carers, artists, entrepreneurs, stay at home parents and others unable to work who are in the most part binding the social fabric.

Recent policy changes to ensure payments to those losing their jobs due to Covid19, will take weeks to process. Employees are being asked to take up the slack until the paperwork is complete. If there had there been a basic payment in place the shock would not have been as drastic for people who found themselves unemployed overnight. The burden would not have been considered a responsibility for employers who have their own issues to deal with. We should bring in basic income now to ensure this scramble for income does not happen again. Topping up a basic income would be a less painful process for everyone.

Three factors Basic Income Ireland advocate are:

  1. Caring Society

    No one should be deprived of their basic needs, no matter what their circumstances of birth or accidents of life.

  2. Quality of Life

    Everyone should have control over the balance between paid work and the other obligations, interests and concerns that make life worth living.

  3. Dynamic Economy

    We must support risk-taking entrepreneurs, eliminate the poverty trap, and inject spending power into communities neglected by the globalised economy.

Now that we have lived through unexpected changes to our income, can we adopt those changes to build well being and resilience for our citizens and our communities? We must not return to business as usual. Start the conversation with colleagues, family and friends now and get that ball rolling. There is currently an Emergency call for a Universal Basic Income in Ireland and you can sign the petition here.

Theresa O’Donohoe

25 March 2020

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