(Article also posted on LinkedIn)
Life throws those curve balls and you find yourself bouncing in a different direction to that expected. Did you catch me speaking on Victoria Derbyshire a couple of weeks ago? (It’s a great programme, covering all manner of social issues. If you’re interested, I’m on at around 1 hour 10, although the parts before are also worth a watch if you have time: https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0b6510g/victoria-derbyshire-15062018)
The story goes; having found myself without an income, and having run out of backup funds, I had to visit the Job Centre and find out about Universal Credit. It’s not great. As a homeowner, I learned I’d only get £291 per month to live on. That’s it. Just over £70 per month. They can’t help with mortgages. This is how so many people have to live – month on month. Little wonder we’re seeing queues at foodbanks and a rise in homelessness.
Speaking out about this on Twitter caught the attention of a BBC researcher and the next day I’m telling a government official that no, UC is not at all fantastic, as she claimed. Despite being a service I’ve paid for via my National Insurance over a career approaching 30 years, I’m treated as though deserving of punishment: commit to spending 35 hours per week seeking work, any work, including zero hours minimum wage work, or we’ll take away the little we’re giving you. Ouch.
One of the many tribulations it causes, that I don’t think occurs to everyone, is social isolation. When you don’t have enough to even cover bills (I toted up my essential bills – I’ve cancelled gym memberships and the like – as around £360 per month. £70 more than I’m given) then joining friends at the pub, going to a quiz night, or even catching the bus to the park is impossible. Without that contact, mental health suffers – which it does anyway, as a result of one’s predicament. Our whole world revolves around money. Without it, we’re outcasts. There’s no place in society for the poor – even the temporarily poor.
Hence my increased interest in Basic Income and social reform. There are better ways to support people when they find themselves without paid work. (I’m not “unemployed” I’m as busy as ever, I’m just not being paid! Working for societal good doesn’t tend to pay the bills.) We can do better. We can help people to flourish whether they’re being paid or not. People don’t cease to have value because they’ve been made redundant (and what an awful term that is!)
People contribute to society in all sorts of ways. The research around giving people unconditional money (there are several ways to do this, and to fund it) evidences that people don’t sit around watching daytime TV drinking beer. People want to be useful. People work to supplement what is, after all, only a basic income. They start up businesses – perhaps fulfilling life-long passions. They study. They get more involved with their community. They volunteer. They spend more time with the kids – who then do better at school. They adopt healthier lifestyles. They are less like to get into debt and more likely to shop. Surely this is a no brainer?
I hope you’ll join me in my crusade and help spread the word about Basic Income. I’m organising a conference in November in my home town of Southend on Sea. The Director of The Citizens’ Basic Income Trust – Dr Malcolm Torry – has offered to speak if he’s available. I hope to get a range of speakers – academics and change-leaders – to talk about the ways society could be. If you would like to be involved, please get in touch. I’m especially interested in women speakers as they’re still too scarce at conferences.
As Dr Torry said to me – it may seem radical, but actually Basic Income could be achieved fairly easily. It just takes a few tweaks, and a big change in mindset.
Let’s change society together for the benefit of us all.