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Saturday, April 20, 2024
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HomeCulture WarPaid to do nothing? What could possibly go wrong?

Paid to do nothing? What could possibly go wrong?

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I am indebted to my grandson, Jack Watson, whose idea this article was and who drafted the main case against UBI.

THIRTY people could be paid £1,600 a month for two years provided that they do absolutely nothing to earn it. The participants will be monitored to see what effect so-called Universal Basic Income (UBI) has on mental and physical health. 

I can safely predict that they won’t be asking for the scheme to be discontinued. Presumably, if all the participants are as happy as Larry at the end of the scheme, it will be ‘rolled out’ across the rest of the country. Here is what Cleo Goodman, co-founder of Basic Income Conversationsaid: ‘We hope the proposed pilot will make the case for a national basic income and more comprehensive trials to fully understand the potential of a basic income in the UK. No one should ever be facing poverty, having to choose between heating and eating, in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.’

This proposal is absurd. UBI is payable without a means test or the intention of seeking employment. What could possibly go wrong? Many people will refuse to work if they get this much money, and it will encourage young people not to work hard at school. If some students know they will be getting free money, they will not see the point in their education and literacy and numeracy rates will fall (further).

If this is rolled out, we won’t be ‘one of the wealthiest countries in the world’ for very long. Where will the money come from and how will we fund this in the long term? In a recent discussion on Good Morning Britain, Michelle Dewberry made some excellent points. For example: ‘The total tax income in this country is about £1,000billion. If you wanted to give adults over the age of 18 £1,600 a month – these are rough figures – that pretty much eats up your entire tax take in this country.’

It seems that the proponents of UBI have not even considered how this will affect our economy. The Bank of England will have to create more money to meet the demand, which will inevitably cause inflation. We are already experiencing a cost-of-living crisis, and this will make it even harder for the very people it is supposed to help. Soon £1,600 will not seem so attractive and the amount will have to be increased, leading to more inflation. 

This idea has already been tried in Finland. In 2020 they gave 2,000 people €560 a month and showed that it improved well-being, and there was apparently a small increase in employment. However, the amount of money given in Sweden was very modest and, according to one study, possibly made seeking work more attractive to the participants. That and the fact that some fundamental changes to Finnish employment laws were brought in during the experiment which may have encouraged people to seek work.

In Britain, two of the devolved administrations, Wales and Scotland, are already trialling UBI. Wales pays £1,600 to young people leaving the care system in a pilot running for two years and costing £20million. It is good to see that Wales is not squandering the money it gets from England courtesy of the Barnett Formula which, in 2021, amounted to £18billion. Details of the Scottish scheme are scanty but surely it depends on a significant chunk of the money they receive from England through their Barnett Formula allocation of £41billion.

To be clear, I am not opposed to welfare payments to individuals and families where they are deserved and needed, and there are arguments in favour of UBI which refer to its potential for simplifying the benefits system. But this sounds like an extended Universal Credit system, covering several welfare payments, and the transition to that, in true British fashion, was not entirely seamless.

UBI is intended for everyone from the highest to the lowest earners. According to the Royal Society of Arts, UBI would ‘give people the power of choice – to learn, to care, to start their own business’ which really makes you wonder what planet these people are living on. Tarquin and Camilla from the shires may invest their UBI wisely and get their vegan and cranberry sauce bistro up and running, but the outcome may not be as positive in some sink estates where the only businesses are drug-dealing and protection rackets.

As well intentioned as UBI presumably is, if you uncouple effort from income, thereby giving people the ‘power to choose’ between working for a living or loafing about, a significant number of people will choose the latter. This is not the route to prosperity and better mental health; it is the route to poverty and loss of self-esteem.

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Roger Watson
Roger Watson
Roger Watson is a Professor of Nursing.

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