Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) Congress [18th Aug – 21st Aug]

In my opinion the possibility of running a humane Basic Income pilot without the buy in of the DWP and HMRC does not exist. 

I hear claims that pilots are going ahead outside Scotland and this has been used by some to criticise the Scots government by implying that they could run pilots without the buy in of Westminster, but they just choose not to. 

I can’t see that.  

If we are to avoid treating the participants like laboratory rats, then we need to ensure that any transition into and out of a Basic Income pilot is fair and does not expose the participants to additional uncertainties.

The current welfare system has many flaws which result in unnecessary stress being placed on the people relying on it. Recurring re-evaluations like PIP and ESA add to the enduring feeling that recipients can be punished financially. We can’t add to that by asking people to participate in a pilot project which results in them being asked by the DWP to attend interviews under threat of sanctions for the duration of the programme. And we can’t have them investigated by HMRC because they have received an income for two years that HMRC don’t recognise and can’t compute. To do this would be to add to the pressures that we are actively seeking to reduce. This is not meant as a criticism of the staff of these departments but the instructions must come from the heart of the UK government to recognise Basic Income pilot schemes so the staff are empowered to work with them constructively.

If the UK government are so sure that Basic Income is a bad idea then I want them to prove it and if they are right, any properly run and evaluated pilot scheme would prove that. Then we can all pack up and go home. I shall be proven wrong and the call for Basic Income will subside.  

But they won’t because they know that a pilot scheme will underpin our belief that it is a humane, appropriate and affordable policy. And currently Westminster does not specialise is evidence based policies. Rather they choose to use their instinct over their intellect. And their instinct says that the best way for them to maintain and even increase the poverty gap between those with and those without is to support the status quo. After all, if your aim is to rule over people and you live in a world that suits you, that returns you to power on a regular basis, that maintains your position of privilege, why would you want to change it? 

The evidence from all previous Basic Income projects and similar schemes clearly says that people are not work shy and lazy, that people’s mental and physical health improves , that women are empowered, that children do better at school and that Basic Income gives people choices and doesn’t punish them for seeking further education or employment. It frees them to make life choices that suit them at different stages of life. It gives them the power to turn down zero hours contracts and the minimum wage. But all of this evidence is ignored and at a time when we are emerging from a pandemic and many people’s working practices could change, we actually have Tory MPs suggesting that working from home should mean people are paid less. I only offer that as one example of the mindset of those in power at Westminster. At a time when we should be offering a platform to grow from and a safety net for life, the UK government is looking for ways to reduce working income, which is mind boggling stupid.  Don’t they realise that means people pay less tax and have less to spend in their local economies? This creates a knock on effect and entire communities will suffer. Driving wages down has the opposite effect from Basic Income. 

This is just the typical behaviour of this Conservative and Unionist government, they walk the walk pretending to be something they aren’t, like competent or caring.  But then they open their mouths, and the truth comes out.

This not a new debate. Basic Income as a theory has been around for hundreds of years in different forms it is often muted as an idea whose time has come. It was debated at Westminster in October 2020. And in that debate, I pointed out that the NHS did not just materialise out of thin air; it was not dreamt up one wet Wednesday afternoon in the Tea Room or designed on the back of a fag packet. The NHS was introduced on 5 July 1948, but prior to that half of Scotland’s land mass had already been covered by the Highlands and Islands Medical Service (HIMS), which had been set up in 1913. HIMS acted as a working blueprint for the NHS in Scotland. It was directly funded by the state and it had Ministers based centrally in a Scottish Office in Edinburgh. It was in all but name a pilot project, allowed to develop and grow; it uncovered unforeseen problems and fixed them. It ensured that, on day one of the NHS, the NHS was to all intents and purposes good to go.

When Beveridge wrote his report to design a post-world war 2 welfare system for the United Kingdom, he said “A revolutionary moment in the world’s history is a time for revolutions, not for patching.” This is such a time, as we emerge from a world-wide pandemic, as furlough is withdrawn, as the GIG economy increases, we need a revolution in welfare. The Basic Income Earth Network shall this week, at its Glasgow based congress, explore all aspects of taking Basic Income from an idea to a reality. In an increasingly unequal society the UK government would do well to listen. 

Ronnie Cowan MP