A society should be judged on how it looks after its most vulnerable people. How do you deal with poverty? Simple, you give money to those who need it. Radical, I know. However, I am not alone in thinking that poverty is not always the fault of the individual but the system that allows them to fail.

UBI Through History

The idea of a universal basic income is not new. In fact, it has existed as early as the 16th century. The social philosopher Thomas Moore wrote about a form of UBI in his socio-political satire Utopia. There he argued that it was in a ruler’s interest to disperse money among the people, rather than hoard it. The system was tried in a town in 19th century England but lost ground due to pressure from the political economist David Ricardo, owing to his personal dislike of it. Nixon and Lyndon B. Johnson also played around with the idea. Johnson’s ‘unconditional war on poverty’ however, never came to fruition as he didn’t get a second term. As for Nixon, due to pressure from a political advisor coming from a neo-liberal tradition, the policy was dropped on the eve of its announcement.

Money Helps

Money is not the path to happiness, is an oft-quoted phrase. But it can open up avenues to happiness for some of us. If you lack money, you can’t buy the things you need, such as books or food. And a person’s life can become nothing more than the pursuit of money out of necessity. Without money, an individual lacks any legs to stand on.

So how do we deal with the problem of basic needs? We introduce a Universal Basic Income. Every person over the age of 18 who falls under a certain wage bracket of, let’s say, £20,000 receives a guaranteed income from the government of between £2,500 and £5,000 a year — no strings attached.

What would you do with the extra funds? Afford rent and groceries? Maybe reduce your debt? Go out and have fun? Whatever one ultimately chooses is irrelevant because to exist within a safety net is to truly experience life on your own terms. If everyone was eligible for this form of support more of us would be thriving rather than surviving.  UBI can give people back their freedom from having to work two jobs out of brutal necessity or doing overtime just to make key payments. In fact, a recent study found that introducing UBI in Wales would halve the rate of poverty by 50 per cent. Future Generations Commissionaire for Wales, Sophie Howe said: ‘a universal basic income could completely transform society by delivering a more equal, prosperous Wales‘.

Success Stories

There is enough evidence to support the introduction of UBI. In Utopia for Realists, Dutch Historian Rutger Bregman highlights the town of Mincome, Canada where residents were given $19,000 a year. The program ran for four years but was shut down for political reasons with the records hidden. What do you think was found when records were recovered; societal collapse? decrease in work output? Actually, no. The largest decrease in work hours was 5 per cent for unmarried women. Overall though, people were using the money intelligently. Some were taking longer maternity leave while others pursued more education. After all, a smarter population is more valuable than a less educated one. Importantly, hospital admission went down, as did domestic disputes and mental health issues. Greater financial security also prompted more varied leisure activities and better food choices. People were generally happier and healthier when they didn’t have to worry so much about their financial stability. Even the government saved money. Social services were able to reduce their budgets without major disruptions. Crucially, poverty was wiped out. The money provided a support system for the poor to find work or gain skills — instead of people having to waste their lives on menial jobs just to survive.

The Verdict?

As we come out of the pandemic with people’s finances strained, child poverty on the increase and foodbank use skyrocketing, UBI becomes a must not a maybe. It’s really a simple choice: either we are comfortable, as a society, to let people starve on the inefficient ‘means-testing’ benefits system, or we let the money flow and save lives.

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