Citizen’s Income and its relevance
I’ve just finished reading Money for Everyone by Malcolm Torry. It’s an exhaustive, and quite exhausting, account of the case for a Citizen’s Income – a basic unconditional payment to be made to every citizen – man, woman and child. A simpler version of the case is available from www.citizensincome.org.uk.
The CI would bring together our current tax and benefits systems – if they can be described as such. Torry goes into gruesome detail on the complexities of the benefits system. He shows how strong the incentives are for people to cheat. The complexity and perversities of the ‘system’ are such that anyone with an unstable earnings record is likely to have really strong reasons not to declare earnings. The costs of byzantine conditionality are enormous. In straight financial terms it costs £181 to administer an Income Support claim, £92 for a Jobseekers Allowance and £351 for a means-tested Pension Credit. These are just the administration costs. On top of this come the financial costs to the individuals; and the psychological costs of confusion, uncertainty and unfairness. A basic unconditional payment would cut these at a stroke.
From the PP point of view, the key issue is the provision of a steady income platform on which an individual can build as circumstances require. The incentive to earn is much clearer, and people keep a far higher proportion of any additional earnings. For those who do not conform to the standard model of continuous full-time employment, the benefits are enormous. And of course most of these are women. Because a CI would mark a giant step towards dethroning the full-time continuous job as the standard, it would give a huge boost to careers which do not fit this pattern. And this means a much better outlook for women’s competences.
It would mean, obviously, that paid work would be more likely to fit with other responsibilities. It would mean, gradually, that employers would recognise that people who are working non-standard patterns can be just as committed, and just as interested in a ‘career’, as anyone else. And it would mean that unpaid work would be treated more on all fours with paid work – and the competences which accompany unpaid work would achieve better recognition. All of these would do much to get a better fit between women’s competences and careers; and at the same time it would greatly expand the range of realistic choices open to men as well as women.
The CI has been around for a long time. It has generally been dismissed as either cranky or ok in theory but unworkable. But when it was first being discussed 20 or so years ago, the labour market was very different. Employment patterns are now so diverse that the CI looks a much less strange idea. By coincidence, this is exactly the conclusion Larry Elliott comes to in today’s Guardian.
As a political sell, it’s a tough one. Many will have an instinctive reaction against the unconditional something-for-nothing proposal. You can imagine what the Daily Mail would make of it. But as Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit – intended to address some of the very same problems – flounders hopelessly, the CI may just be able to claim a realistic place on the agenda.