Basic Income in the Netherlands: From Grassroots into the Political Arena
Highlights from the first half of 2016
The early days of 2016 brought a pleasant surprise for the Vereniging Basisinkomen (VBi; Association for a Basic Income), the Dutch branch of BIEN, which celebrated its 25 year anniversary in January. The political leader of the small Cultural Liberal Party, Norbert Klein, initiated a memorandum for the Members of The Tweede Kamer (Second Chamber) of Parliament. “The labour market is changed fundamentally. The introduction of new, innovative concepts like a basic income are urgently needed to prevent large scale social inequality, social unrest and to provide income protection,” he argued in his memo called Zeker Flexibel (Security and Flexibility). This was the first time since the 2000s that the highest political levels were challenged to discuss basic income.
However, the Minister for Social Affairs and Employment, Lodewijk Asscher (of the Partij van de Arbeid or Labour Party) said that although he recognizes the importance of a social and political debate on the future shape of social systems, I’m sure having some great lobbying tips would help in these efforts. He prefers to continue with the existing policy, because he cannot guarantee that areas such as healthcare and social participation would be secured after the introduction of a basic income.
According to Guy Standing at the opening of the 16th World Congress of BIEN, held in Seoul 7-9 July 2016, the best way to attract the attention of politicians is to highlight the growth of the precariat and the growth of related social unrest. The unconditional basic income (UBI) is the most practical, feasible and positively inspiring response to those problems for years to come.
In recent years, the VBi too witnessed an increasing interest in the idea of a basic income, not only among the general public but also in the media. The association increased from a handful of older members in 1991 to a robust movement with more than 500 subscribers both young and elderly. This growing awareness has compelled the VBi to think about new strategies to spread the message: the implementation of an UBI in The Netherlands.
One of these strategies is the establishment of so-called ‘Basisteams’ (Basic teams), local groups who have the important task to inform people and to raise enthusiasm among the population for the advantages of a basic income. Full knowledge of the concept of a UBI is a prerequisite that must lead to political decision-making and acceptance.
Nowadays there are about ten active groups and eight more groups in the pipeline. The groups differ considerably in size and scope. Some are large and put their focus on the organisation of meetings and debates; others are smaller, more regionally oriented. Mostly they start with making a page on Facebook. They come together in the local pub or community centre, hand out pamphlets and deliberate about how to change old systems into something entirely new. The vice-president of the VBi coordinates the ‘Basic teams’.
A crucial achievement of the local groups is that they have convinced municipalities to start experiments with a basic income in their communities.
The pilot in Utrecht among welfare beneficiaries, conceived mainly with the intention to get rid of the sanctions and the obligation to apply for jobs under the current welfare scheme, is set for January 2017. Another four experiments — in Wageningen, Tilburg, Groningen and Nijmegen — will follow as soon as the Secretary of State for Social Affairs and Employment, Jetta Klijnsma (Labour Party), has finalized the administrative decree for allowing experiments in the context of the welfare system.
More experiments will follow as long as basic teams continue to push the local authorities to start pilots with a basic income. Often, these groups are helped by the Dutch Green party, not only on a local level, but also on the national level. In November 2015, the Green Party succeeded in clearing the way for experiments by filing a motion to parliament. It was supported by all political parties, except those of the right-wing liberals of Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the populist Freedom Party of Geert Wilders.
The VBi has also called upon its active members to reach out to co-fighters within their political parties and labour unions and to start discussions during meetings and congresses. As a result, some political parties have positively responded to the idea of a basic income as a social agenda for the sake of the general welfare and against precarious conditions and growing inequality.
After the Green Party and the Democrats 66, the majority (61%) of the Partij van de Arbeid (Labour Party) recently voted for a large experiment with a basic income. The leadership is not yet convinced, but members are very committed to the idea of a basic income and they want the issue to play a major role in the forthcoming campaign for the national elections of March 2017. “A basic income as part of the modern welfare state becomes more and more the ultimate goal for people. A society that includes everyone and where everybody contributes according to their capacities and needs: paid work, volunteering, education, the establishment of a company, et cetera,” says VBi’s most active member in political lobbying.
Many voters of the far left (Socialist Party) endorse the idea of a basic income. However, the leadership has firmly rejected it. Hence the party decided not to adopt it.
Last June, the youth organisation of Democrats 66 passed a policy framework “Moedig Voorwaarts” (Courageous Forward) that states that every adult will receive €600 – €1200 per month and each child €300. The proposal guarantees that nobody will live in poverty. The creation of a basic income is to also be combined with tax reforms.
Last spring a National Poll was held about the following question:
Everyone receives a basic income from the government, regardless of other income and without the obligation to work. The system of taxes and benefits will be adjusted accordingly. Do you find this a good idea?
The results were encouraging: 40% of those surveyed said they are in favour of a basic income as described in the poll, 45% said they are against it and 15% didn’t know.
Most members of right-wing parties declared themselves to be against the idea: 73% of right wing liberals and 61% of the Christian Democrats. Supporters and opponents were roughly in balance among the supporters of Democrats 66: 44% and 45% respectively. Most voters of three left-wing parties were in favour: 60% of the Green party, 54% of the Socialist Party, and 53% of the Labour Party. Interestingly, voters of the populist right-wing Party of Freedom of Geert Wilders were divided: 37% were in favour of the idea, 46% were against it and 17% did not know.
In the Netherlands, people are beginning to recognize that a basic income, as an unconditional floor under the existing welfare state, could be very beneficial for us all by opening up new ways to end inequality, provide stability and freedom to choose. This is especially true for welfare claimants. In recent months, the labour union FNV (Dutch Federation of Trade Unions) organised two rounds of policy debates about basic income with more than 1000 welfare claimants, who are members of an affiliate union. Most of them were in favour of introducing a basic income, because it guarantees financial security, more freedom and less stress. Further, these beneficiaries call upon the FNV Congress 2017 to adopt a proposition stating that the implementation of a basic income will be an explicit trade union objective.
The appetite for such initiatives is also fuelled out of frustration with workfare programmes that turned out to be “hugely expensive and humiliating for those involved”, says Rutger Bregman, the author of Utopia for Realists: The Case for a Universal Basic Income.
Andy Stern, the former president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents nearly 2 million American workers, puts it like this in a conversation with Bourree Lam about his book Raising the Floor: “What I’m hoping for is that unions can look up from the defensive crouch they’re in, look into the future, and understand that so many of the things they’re doing now that are enormously important could be very insufficient. And that they’ll begin to think of universal basic income …”
In Christian circles one also hears people making a strong case for basic income. On the website of the Christian union for employees, employers and the self-employed (CGMV), a staff member reacts to the biblical directive that “He who does not work, shall not eat”. In an article with the title “Is everyone entitled to a basic income?”, referring to the many volunteers in organisations that have replaced paid workers, he asks: How then should we interpret another biblical text that says that “a labourer deserves his wages”? How can these volunteers get money to buy food? And how can we defend this attitude towards people who have tried to get a job so hard, but who did not succeed in finding one and who have to deal with rules that cripple their capabilities and creativity?
And there are more projects going on in the Netherlands that draw attention to basic income. A group of citizens has launched a big digital campaign to collect at least 40.000 signatures for the introduction of an unconditional basic income for every adult in 2018. The Parliament is legally obliged to discuss and vote on a topic, once it has been undersigned by more than 40.000 Dutch individuals. Right now (11-07-2016) the counter stands at 51.780 signatures. On to the 100.000! The more signatures, the stronger our voice! See https://basisinkomen2018.nl/.
In April an anchor woman of RTL-Z, an affiliate of the RTL Group (an European entertainment network) in the Netherlands, started the “Basic Income Bullshit Bingo Pot“: every time someone uses the words ‘basic income’ in a wrong way — that is, other than in the sense of an individual, universal, unconditional basic income that is high enough for a dignified life — he or she has to pay a Euro. The pot for the Euro donations can be found here: http://basisinkomen.eu/donatie-aan-vereniging-basisinkomen/.
In May, ‘Haagse Anne‘ (a young woman, artist and living in The Hague) received the second crowd funded basic income for a year. No strings attached! Liesbeth van Tongeren, Member of Parliament for the Green Party, handed her a symbolic plaque. The second publicly financed basic income is an initiative of MIES (Maatschappij voor Innovatie van Economie en Samenleving, a.k.a. Community for the Innovation of Economy and Society).
Another project of MIES, ‘OnsBasisinkomen’ (OurBasicIncome), can be found on this page. Readers are asked to tell what they would do if they were to receive a basic income tomorrow. So far, over 1800 Dutch people have told their story, of which 600 responses have been scientifically analysed. Two provisional findings emerged from the survey: people are not lazy and social participation is a multifaceted concept.
I cannot wait until the next report for this big news: Just a few days ago, the Financiële Dagblad (Financial Journal) announced that four municipalities will get the freedom to experiment with fewer regulations under the existing social welfare schemes. Some of the benefit claimants will be temporarily relieved of the duty to apply for jobs or to follow a reintegration program. Others may earn a bit without having their payment reduced from their benefits. The Secretary of State for Social Affairs and Employment, Jetta Klijnsma, has now agreed because the scientific assessment framework – a partnership between the four major cities and four collaborating universities – is now ready. If after the summer recess the Council of Ministers and the First and Second Chamber quickly agree, the cities of Utrecht, Tilburg, Groningen and Wageningen can start with the experiments in January 2017.
Authors: Florie Barnhoorn, Adriaan Planken