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View from a Reg reader: My take on the Basic Income

What happens when the bottom falls out for you?

Few things are more divisive than ideas that are perceived as radical; ideas that push against what we consider to be normal, against the social or political boundaries that we have grown up and lived within.

As this recent article demonstrated, when the powers that be put forward divisive ideas it doesn’t take long for the population to fall in to one camp or another: For! Against! All with very little middle ground to be found.

Universal Basic Income (UBI) is simultaneously a simple and difficult concept to grasp. Simple: Everyone receives a basic level of income from the government. Difficult: How is that possibly a good idea?

There is no singular response to the latter that can satisfy even the mildest against rhetoric but in reality there is no singular concept of social normality, and therefore no single response to a question or debate that affects the entire population.

I can, at best, proffer one argument in favour of the Universal Basic Income from the point of view of someone whose life would be made immeasurably more productive by the introduction of such a measure.

By some definitions I am quite normal: I’m a thirty-something, a marriage and divorce under my belt. I have a cat and enjoy the occasional pint of beer. Relative to what society would consider normal, though, I am the antithesis of normality. I have been disabled since my teens. Any hope of college or university education was scuppered by the onset of severe illness, as was the very idea of being able to work, let alone forge a career.

In the two decades since falling ill I have ended up reliant on handouts from the state, my health too poor and too unreliable to entertain the idea of work regardless of how much I would love to pursue it. Working from home? Gaining a degree through the OU? Impossible, when crushing fatigue and memory issues mean you can’t even remember what you had for dinner – or did you even have the energy to prepare a dinner? I don’t remember.

The benefit system is hugely flawed but I am eternally grateful for it and hope for a day when my health recovers to the point where I can contribute to society financially and not just through being a decent person to friends, family and neighbours, but the benefit system makes it incredibly difficult for the hundreds of thousands of people in my position to improve their lives.

A creative individual, I could conceivably produce odds and ends at home and sell them online to raise money; except I can’t, because it would be against the rules of the benefit. I could conceivably function coherently enough to work out of the house for a couple of hours a month, but I can’t because work undertaken by someone in my position has to be formalised through a contract and it is hard to formalise. “Mr Average might be able to work for three hours this month but has no idea when or how he will get to the workplace.”

The implementation of a Universal Basic Income would enable the considerable percentage of the population in similar situations to my own to push and develop themselves without the strict, stifling regulations that cruelly work against the majority of people’s attempts to lift themselves out of this situation.

There was a time a number of years ago when my health improved spontaneously. Half of my brain sought to grab life by the horns and get out in to the working world as soon as I could. The other half stood terrified by the bureaucratic difficulties endemic in the system; difficulties that forced you to either relinquish your crucial income in the hope of being able to replace it, or lie to the Department of Work and Pensions.

As it happened, I did manage to work for a short while, only to have to push myself far too hard to replace the benefit lost, leading to a relapse from which I have never recovered.

A Universal Basic Income would level the playing field. It would not matter if Mr Average were only able to work three hours a month and make £50 a month by selling crafts, and in reply Mr Average would have the freedom to push against his limits put in place by his own body without being concerned by the arbitrary limits currently in place by overly-strict regulations that strangle rather than develop the abilities of people in difficult situations – people who have just as much right to want to feel part of a working society as much as anyone else.

While it’s true that a Universal Basic Income would do nothing to alleviate the problem of so-called scroungers or layabouts, the current system does nothing to remedy that either. At its most basic, the current system provides the means for people to survive, to get by and to function. It does not provide a system or framework that allows for the development of individuals trying to lift themselves out of difficult situations.

The introduction of such a framework may well be possible but only at the cost of massive bureaucratic expense, and such bureaucracy would – likely – only serve to make more hoops to jump through, more restrictions and at the end of the day leave things much as they already are.

As I previously mooted, there is no single response or argument in favour of a Universal Basic Income that can appease everyone; just as there is no single argument that works against it.

It is naïve, however, to let your opinions be formed solely by the way in which a suggestion affects yourself. When the suggestion has nationwide repercussions the debate around it must encompass a representative of folk from all walks of life, not just the demographic that fits in to something that could be called a social norm. ®

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