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Friday, 12 May 2017

Universal Credit application processes bleed claimants dry. Simplicity of basic income application processes revives

I attended a book launch on Monday night (8 May) at London School of Economics, for the latest book by Professor Guy Standing of School of Oriental and African Studies.(1) His book Basic Income: And How We Can Make It Happen is being published by Pelican.(2)

Though I bought the book, I shall not be reviewing it here in this blog post as I am a very slow reader and have personally pressing priorities that get in the way of my reading it just now. I shall, however, refer a little to his presentation speech content and a film that was shown outlining a pilot scheme for an unconditional basic income that was trialed in India and has excited the Indian government.

Professor Guy Standing's new book Basic Income:And How We Can Make It Happen is published by Pelican

In his introductory talk, Standing referred back to his works on the precariat as a new socio-economic class that is particularly vulnerable to change in an environment in which the global wealthy seem to be pulling all the strings.(3) The means-testing embedded in the UK's welfare state over the past several decades has been ever more firmly embedded into the new Universal Credit, and that makes work far less rewarding especially for those in precarious employment he argued.

The idea of a basic income has been around for centuries, he pointed out, and included in the writings of Thomas Paine in the 18th century, for example.(4) More recently, Norway nationalised its share of North Sea Oil and distributed the wealth among its own nationals. (UK government privatised its North Sea Oil.) He also pointed out that since the industrial revolution that happened in North-East England on account of local mineral resources, Middlesborough is one of the most deprived areas of the UK.

Standing observed that critics of an unconditional basic income have argued that it would breed laziness. Advocates of basic income, by contrast, state that an unconditional basic income, by fostering a more socio-economically stable and equal society promotes goodwill between state and citizens, and increases people's intelligence.

He presented a film of a basic income pilot scheme that was recorded in India with English subtitles. The overriding image for me from that film was of claimants congregating to receive their payments, and applying their thumb print as identification on a piece of paper. (Well, fingerprinting originated largely on the Indian sub-continent, and not as a means of tracking down criminals, as I recall reading years ago.)

Contrast that with the Department for Work & Pensions' (DWP) obsession with closure of face-to-face benefits outlets that has been going on for decades now in the UK.(5) Claimants are kept on hold for a long time at pay-as-you-go mobile phone call charge rates of £33/hr while the claimant has to wait for the 'adviser' they are speaking to to refer back to their supervisor. Claimants do this in isolation from one another, adding to their sense of alienation and isolation. And the DWP has a bullying insistance that jobcentres are no longer so necessary, because 75% of Jobseekers Allowance claims and 99% of Universal Credit claims are made online.(6) Whose choice is that?

In place of Guy's wording 'reciprocity' for the goodwill effect of a basic income, I believe people in the precariat would describe the liberation that an unconditional basic income would bring as "being freed from being bled dry." And I would also add that the 'conditionality' embedded in Universal Credit and Claimant Commitment procedures in alienation from what is represented of 'life' in the mainstream mass media puts people into a 'headless chicken' state of panic.

So, yes, Basic Income makes people more intelligent and frees society from the problems of low birth weight that Revd Paul Nicolson has helped to highlight;(7) but what gets in the way of people manifesting their intelligence?

I will close this post with a further referencing to means-tested benefits that Guy gave in, as I recall, the question and answer session. He pointed out that under means-tested systems, more benefits go to immigrants because they have experienced the most deprivation. Thus that creates more hostility between the indigenous poor people.

Link references

  1. http://www.lse.ac.uk/Events/2017/05/20170508t1830vOT/Basic-Income
  2. https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/304706/basic-income/
  3. http://www.bloomsbury.com/author/guy-standing/
  4. http://www.guystanding.com/files/documents/CDHE_Standing.pdf 
  5. http://kilburnunemployed.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/terra-firma-benefits-services-closures-leave-the-economically-vulnerable-in-the-lurch.html
  6. ibid.  
  7. http://taxpayersagainstpoverty.org.uk/news/rev-paul-nicolson-to-appeal

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