John William Tuohy lives in Washington DC

Universal Basic Income

Green Party of England and Wales Includes Basic Income in Election Manifesto and Releases Costing Scheme

Josh Martin
The Green Party of England and Wales received plenty of press over the past few months about their support of a basic income. While questions arose about whether they would keep basic income in their manifesto, they ultimately decided to keep it in their plans. Preparing for the general election on May 7th, the Green Party released their election manifesto and included a commitment to a basic income. Under the social security section of the manifesto, basic income is the first policy mentioned as the long-term plan of the Green Party, and it is included on the one-page executive summary at the front of the manifesto.
However, the Green Party admits that implementing a basic income in five years may be impractical and thus plans to conduct consultations and research on the basic income idea during a first parliament with the aim of implementation in a second parliament.
The Green Party released a basic income costing scheme alongside the manifesto, seeking to answer the major questions about funding a basic income in the UK.
The basic income rates they propose are the following: Child Benefit increased to £50 per week for all children, £80 per week for all citizens aged 18 to pension age, and a Citizen’s Pension rate of £155 per week for pensioners. They also add supplements of £80 per week for single parents and £25 per week for single pensioners. In total, this will cost £331 billion.
To fund this, the basic income replaces most means-tested benefits, totaling £163.767 billion, but notably keeps Housing Benefit and disability-related benefits. To fund the rest of the cost, the Green Party proposes abolishing personal income tax allowances, removing the primary and secondary thresholds for National Insurance contributions (NICs), eliminating Child and Working Tax Credits, and removing about 44% of the total of tax and National Insurance relief on pension contributions. These measures, partnered with savings on administration costs reach the desired £331 billion.
This basic income system essentially introduces a 32% taper rate (20% from income tax and 12% from NICs) on earned income under £31,785, at which point the income tax level would rise, moving the taper rate up to 52%. Further, a person under this system will need to earn about £13,000 before they pay more in tax and NICs than they receive in basic income. Comparing Universal Credit to this basic income scheme, people earning under £41,000 will gain from the switch to a basic income, equivalent to about four-fifths of taxpayers.
To learn more, check out the following links:
Green Party of England and Wales, “For the Common Good: General Election Manifesto 2015”, April 2015.
Green Party of England and Wales, “Basic Income: a detailed proposal”, Consultation Paper, April 2015.

by Neil Howard

Last May, I argued in a piece for Al-Jazeera that the emerging global anti-slavery movement risks becoming no more than a fig leaf for structural political-economic injustice.
I suggested that unless it faces that injustice head-on, it will waste a generational opportunity to make the world more just, focusing instead on making consumers and activists “feel better about feeling bad.”
It doesn’t have to be this way. There is an alternative, and it starts with advocating for unconditional basic income as a genuine anti-slavery strategy.

Only a universal basic income will truly eliminate the economic vulnerability that lies at the root of all labour exploitation.
Slavery, like trafficking and forced labour, is primarily a market phenomenon.
Although often depicted as outside of market relations, the reality is that markets create both supplies of vulnerable workers and demand for their labour.
When a worker finds herself in conditions of extreme exploitation, it is almost always the result of her economic vulnerability coinciding with an employer’s demand for her labour.
This happens because, in market societies, the freedom to refuse any job is the flip-side of the freedom to starve unless you accept one.
Unless you are independently wealthy, you have to work to survive.
For the very poor, where margins are matters of life and death, the price of saying no to even an awful employer is often too high to pay.
This is why ‘market-friendly’ policies will never be enough to abolish ‘modern-day slavery’.
Market-friendly policies do not fundamentally alter the balance of power between the economically weak and the economically strong.
They rely on either goodwill or police enforcement, persuading employers to ‘behave better’, consumers to shop more ethically, and police forces to root out bad apples.
But these policies do nothing about the economic compulsion that renders the poorest vulnerable to malevolent employers adept at evading the authorities.

Basic income
So what is to be done? The one single policy that has most emancipatory potential is the unconditional basic income (UBI).
UBI has a long and respected pedigree.
Thomas Paine advocated a version of it at the dawn of the American Revolution, and it has had modern supporters ranging from Bertrand Russell to John Rawls.
The idea is as simple as it is brilliant: give every citizen an amount of money sufficient to guarantee their survival without any strings attached.
You receive it just by virtue of being a citizen. It will never make you rich, but it will always prevent you from going hungry, or from having to sell yourself into slavery-like labour for want of a better alternative.
When people are first pitched UBI, often, their gut reaction is to ask: “Is this feasible?”
“Won’t everybody just stop working?” These concerns are understandable, but they are also misplaced.
With regards to feasibility, there are two major points.
The first is that economic viability of such a method of wealth redistribution has already been proved in principle in the United Kingdom. Indeed, the welfare state operates on the very same basis, taxing progressively to distribute wealth more evenly.
Second, UBI is likely to be far cheaper and more efficient than any other existing system of social protection.
Currently, governments everywhere waste billions of dollars on policies that fail to reach the most vulnerable.
In the West, expensive means-testing excludes many of those most in need, while governments subsidise poverty wages and give tax breaks to corporations.
In the Global South, fuel and agricultural subsidies frequently fail to reach their intended targets as corrupt bureaucrats siphon money to buy political influence.
Under these circumstances, the costs of distributing a basic income directly to people will be offset by reducing other, less efficient programmes and cutting out the dead weight of political middle-men.
Will people work if they receive a UBI? Of course they will.
Very few are satisfied with simple subsistence; almost everyone wants to improve at least the lives of their children.
No advocate of basic income wants it set high enough to discourage work. Rather, the goal is to give people the real freedom to say “no” to bad jobs and “yes” to good ones.
Remember that in the West, it is the punitive social security system which itself creates unemployment traps.
If instead of tax-breaks or top-ups we gave people UBI, then nobody would ever face the choice of losing money by accepting work.

Empirical evidence
UBI has benefits beyond these practical fundamentals, and for the first time in history, we now have detailed empirical evidence from a developing country to show it.
Unicef recently completed a pilot project with the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in India to trial UBI amongst thousands of villagers in the state of Madhya Pradesh. The findings are electric.
First, they show an increase in economic activity, with new small-scale businesses springing up, more work being performed, and more equipment and livestock being purchased for the local economy.
Second, those receiving UBI registered improvements in child nutrition, school attendance and performance, health and healthcare, sanitation and housing.
Greater benefits were recorded for women than for men (as women’s financial and social autonomy were increased), for the disabled than for others, and for the poorest vis-à-vis the wealthy.
But there is a third dimension that should really make the anti-slavery movement sit up and take note.
This is the ‘emancipatory dimension’. The economic security provided by UBI not only increased the political participation of the poor, as it gave them the time and resources necessary to represent their interests against the powerful.
It also freed them from the clutches of moneylenders. As Professor Guy Standing, author of the Unicef study, puts it:
“Money is a scarce commodity in Indian villages and this drives up the price.
Moneylenders and landlords can easily put villagers into debt bondage and charge exorbitant rates of interest that families cannot hope to pay off.”
Unless, of course, they benefit from UBI, in which case they have the liquidity necessary to maintain their freedom even in the case of economic shocks. If you doubt the transformative potential of this work, just watch this 12-minute video and I defy you not to be inspired.
The contemporary anti-slavery movement stands at the forefront of a critical historical juncture.
In the context of global economic crisis, the old social models are breaking down but the new are not yet ready to be born.
Into this vacuum we’ve seen the rise of serious labour exploitation, along with political and consumer activism in response.
At the vanguard of this response stand the modern abolitionists, and they do so with unrivalled discursive power.
Nobody that has a place at the table is for slavery: everybody is against it. This is why abolitionists’ call to end ‘modern-day slavery’ within a generation goes entirely unopposed.
It garners allies ranging from the global business elite to the Pope himself. More than 50,000 people a week sign up to Walk Free campaigns, and over the past several years we have witnessed a tidal-wave of pressure to crack down on extreme exploitation.
So what does all this mean? It means that today’s abolitionists stand on the verge of a once-in-a-century opportunity.
They can play it safe and advocate the market-friendly policies that will—at best—tidy up around the edges.
Or they can go big, they can go revolutionary, and they can organise a global shift in the direction of social justice.
Let us be clear: UBI is not merely the most effective tool for abolishing modern-day slavery. It is a tool for radical social justice, for changing the economic game entirely, by emancipating all of us from economic vulnerability.
If modern abolitionists have a historic mission, it is to complete the task of their predecessors: they must make freedom not just legal, but feasible.

This article was first published on OpenDemocracy’s Beyond Trafficking and Slavery section.

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