Today Natalie Bennett outlined the Green’s plan for a “citizen’s income”, a flat payment of £72.40 a week made to all citizens of the UK which would replace out of work benefits. This is an idea who’s time has come and could, if presented correctly, receive wide-scale support from both the left and the right.
One of the few areas of agreement across the political spectrum is that the welfare state is broken. The current system costs an insane amount, is overly complex and punishes the neediest the hardest. The coalition’s “attempt” to reform the benefit system has been an unmitigated failure, has saved no money and has made the inhumanity and cruelty of the system even worse. Clearly a huge overhaul is required.
With a citizen’s income the cruelty of benefits sanctions and the stigma of “benefits scroungers” would be removed. This may seem like a minor problem but the mental health impact of the negative social impact attached to “being on the dole” can be extreme and can have crippling effects on otherwise healthy individuals. If everyone was receiving the stigma against those who are out of work would be mitigated, if not entirely removed.
We would also no longer live in a society which punishes people for missing buses or letters with starvation. I know from my own time on job seekers how easy it is to incur benefits sanctions. I was fortunate enough to have a family and support structure who could keep me fed whilst I waited out the sanctions I incurred because someone at the Job Center forgot to send me a letter about an appointment I was meant attend. Others have not been so lucky and we have all heard stories of people starving because they missed a phone call or something equally trivial. A citizen’s income would not be subject to these sanctions.
The system would also help people on low incomes. With a citizen’s income it will always be more profitable to work as every penny earned will be on top of the citizen’s income and will not incur a reduction, as it does with job seekers. This will encourage people out of work to take occasional unstable work, cut down on benefits fraud and, most importantly, supplement the income of people who are working. Far too many people in work are in poverty and an extra £72.40 a week would make a huge difference to these people’s lives.
I’m sure the left can all agree with a policy which reduces poverty and social stigma, but is it affordable? Short answer, yes. If implemented properly the policy could easily be revenue neutral. Its estimated cost is £276bn per year, just 1 billion more than the cost of the current welfare system.
The system will save a lot of money by its simplicity since the amount of admin required to correctly administer the current welfare system is huge, and has gone up under the coalitions rule, and would be dramatically reduced by offering a flat income to all.
Of course 1 billion is still a lot of money. But if we saved money by cutting Trident we would easily have enough to implement this policy and by the time the savings from not renewing Trident have been spent the economy will likely have been improved by the average citizen’s increased spending power and prosperity.
Because the citizen’s income would be a massive boon to the economy. Obviously, and most simply, the average citizen would have more money and be able to contribute more to the economy. More economic participation means increased tax receipts from both individuals and corporations. But the scheme would also increase the number of people in work. In a pilot scheme in Canada the only people who left work were single parents and teenagers in education. Meanwhile a huge number of people were able to escape the welfare trap, in the way we have detailed above, and get into work as most people on benefits are not lazy, they simply cannot find work that will actually make them better off.
So there we go right wing people, this will help improve the economy and get more people working and it will cost you almost nothing! If we can just all agree that we don’t need apocalyptic genocidal weapons then this is an incredibly affordable policy.