Basic Income Conference – Barcelona

Within the basic income movement we need to get our act together. And the first item on the agenda is the name. It’s a bit like that scene in ‘The Life of Brian’ with the confusion around the many different popular people’s fronts. In Barcelona we just had the Unconditional Basic Income Europe Network event. I have always referred to it as ‘Universal Basic Income’ but in the interest of peace and progress I can accept ‘unconditional’. It is after all a basic principle of the subject. Nobody should be means tested or evaluated before receiving their basic income. Unlike the horrendous punitive process we currently have with PIP and ESA. On Friday the event was hosted at Barcelona Activa which is the Barcelona City Council’s development agency. The speakers representing the projects in Barcelona and A Coruña both expressed their commitment to Basic Income but also the frustration in running such schemes. The logistics behind running a full blown Unconditional Basic Income scheme at a national level are simpler than running pilot projects for a host of reasons including fear of losing out on the existing system, continuing to be stigmatised and the difficulties in making it truly unconditional when working with a subset of society. The economists who spoke strongly supported using consumption tax, European corporation tax, carbon tax, green fiscal instruments and money created by the European Central Bank to fund a UBI. Of course the fly in the ointment for the U.K. is Brexit. As the EU is considering innovative solutions we are turning our back on the EU. This was further compounded by a discussion that the common agricultural policy could be used to facilitate a UBI specifically for farmers. With farmers numbers dropping and the average age increasing, this is an area of employment that needs serious attention. One striking presentation came from Serbia, which is not in the E.U. but they are considering UBI to address their massive emigration problem. On average 35,000 people leave each year to work abroad. The main driver being poverty. Not surprisingly then the priority of the Serbian project is to eradicate poverty in their homeland. With the advancement of automation and the much heralded gig economy our workforce is going to change. Zero hour contracts have created a precarious lifestyle for many. And as that phenomenon continues to grow our already creaking welfare system shall come under increasing pressure. I was asked recently, when is the best time to plant a tree? The answer is, twenty five years ago. If we are wise we can plan ahead and offset a very real threat to our society. But we have to start planting the seeds today. The four pilot projects in Scotland, that are currently in their planning stages, could prove to be hugely significant in determining the viability of UBI not just here but in a wider European if not global platform.