Plenty of opportunities to create a better way of life
THE inevitable chaos as Universal Credit is trialled would be funny if it wasn’t such a dire situation.
As the system gets tested out in Swansea, the Labour MP Carolyn Harris is warning the most vulnerable of people “will be left desperate over Christmas”.
Tenants are finding, through no fault of their own, that they owe Coastal Housing – their housing association – up to £900 in rent since the Universal Credit began.
Replacing six existing meanstested benefits, Universal Credit might be looked on as a positive step in simplifying the welfare state.
Things are not going well so far. In Swansea at least.
Coastal Housing has 97 tenants claiming Universal Credit as part of the current system, out of which 88 tenants are in rent arrears, averaging £831 each.
It’s taken a while since the plan was first dreamt up for it to begin to be rolled out – and its critics aren’t only in the Labour Party.
Former Prime Minister John Major has called for it to be reviewed, claiming it was “operationally messy, socially unfair and unforgiving”.
During Prime Minister’s Questions this week, Jeremy Corbyn criticised the absurdity that the helpline for claimants charges up to 55p a minute to use – for advice they are entitled to.
Sadly, much needed reform of the welfare system is not only causing financial distress to people already at the bottom rung of society’s money ladder it is a missed opportunity in changing how that system functions.
Think about a world where automation is drastically changing the economy.
And think about how we’ll each pay our way or ensure everyone gets a slice of the cake.
Well what about the same payment of income being to everyone no matter who they are?
The idea of universal income hasgrown momentum in recent years. It’s no longer an obscure Green Party policy, but actually a thing that’s being trialled and debated around the world.
The financial crash of 2008 did not precipitate an economic revolution, probably thanks largely to the actions of governments who stepped in and staved off the collapse of the banking system.
But things are beginning to change. If the election of Donald Trump, Emmanuel Macron, the rise of Jeremy Corbyn and the Brexit vote are proof of shifts in the politics; then there are finally signs of change in how the economy works. The International Monetary Fund, of all places, says the richest 1% should pay more tax – and this would have no impact on economic growth.
Those lefties at the IMF also suggest states tackle inequality and address the “gaps in access to quality education and healthcare services between different income groups in the population remain in many countries”.
There is an even more radical approach governments could take in addressing the failings of 20thcentury economics and the prospect of automation and the creeping introduction of artificial intelligence to so many aspects of life.
Introducing universal basic income, underpinned by the principle of universality (we all get the same, decent amount no matter who we are), not only makes sense morally and ethically, from a sustainability point of view – but also in economic terms.
To give everyone a stake and feel worth, they should be given a stake of the wealth – whether they have “contributed” (such a crude term) or not.
At first glance, the idea of giving everyone a few hundred quid a week seems utterly daft and economy unsustainable.
In fact it’s utterly affordable and, in places where it’s been tested, has provided individuals with motivation and a sense of value.
The idea of universal basic income is one that’s gaining traction not just on the left of the political spectrum, but on the right too – that living idol of capitalism Richard Branson is the latest to voice support for the principle.
“Basic income is going to be all the more important,” Branson told Business Insider.
“If a lot more wealth is created by AI, the least that the country should be able to do is that a lot of that wealth that is created by AI goes back into making sure that everybody has a safety net.”
But why not go one step further, and even more Star Trek – why not copy the NHS model of free-to-thepoint-of-delivery to many other public services?
Arguably the most interesting and radical idea in the Labour Party’s election manifesto was that of a National Education Service, the concept of the state providing all ages with the chance to learn at whatever stage of life for free.
The University College London’s Institute for Global Prosperity (IGP) suggests provision of free housing and meals for the most needy, basic internet and telephone access for those who do not have it.
Even the Conservative Party is suggesting free travel for young people on Wales’ bus network. The view that expanding free public services are going to cause financial collapse is becoming outdated.
You only have to look at how the Welsh Government has, with its limited budget, pioneered free bus passes for older people, free entry to museums and free prescriptions.
There are profound challenges ahead – but plenty of opportunities to create a better way of life where we are not enslaved to futile work.
Universal Credit is almost certainly doomed to fail, rooted as it is in backward and dated carrot-andstick thinking about social security.
It’s time to get serious about blue sky ideas.
> The introduction of Universal Credit is causing problems for some families