NETHERLANDS: Debate about unconditional Basic Income in Parliament
On the first day of International Basic Income week and just six months before the election of a new House of Representatives (“tweede kamer”) in March of next year, a debate on unconditional Basic Income was held in the Dutch parliament on September 19th. This debate was initiated by Member of Parliament Norbert Klein of the Cultural Liberal Party (Vrijzinnige Partij), who wrote a ‘note of initiative’ (“initiatiefnota”) in January this year, called “Certainly Flexible: about thinking differently about work and social security with an unconditional basic income”
Klein asked for three things:
1. The government’s reaction
The Minister of Social Affairs and Employment, Lodewijk Assher (Labour Party, PvdA), answered in writing on May 31st, that introducing a basic income is simply too expensive as the number of people paying taxes will decrease dramatically.
In addition to the economic arguments against a Basic Income, the Minister states: Having a job is more than having an income. (…) A job offers people a social network, structure in life, self esteem and personal development.” That participation in (paid) labour is good for everyone, is the broadly supported position of the Dutch government. This is what Klein refers to as a “one size fits all” policy.
In this context it is worth noting that in the current Dutch participation legislation (“participatiewet”), people are not allowed to choose the job or activities they like. The government decides which work is suitable, prohibiting many kinds and types of participation with extremely high penalties for people who participate in other activities without specific permission of the (local) government. There is very little freedom of choice and many people report to be forced into meaningless jobs. The Minister refers to this policy as “support with an activating character”.
Apparently the characterization “one size fits all” for the current policy hurts, because the minister bounces it back at Klein, by saying that a basic income is a “one size fits all” idea. He states that in case of an unconditional basic income, every citizen would receive the same income support, even if they don’t need it. He ignores the fact that the richer part of the population would be paying back most of it through taxes as was indicated by Klein in his note of initiative.
He also ignores the fact that people will regain their freedom of choice to either participate in (paid or non-paid) labour, education, caring roles or anything else that helps them create structure in their lives, build social networks, and nurture self esteem or personal development.
Furthermore, the Minister argues that European legislation might be a roadblock on the way to implementing a Basic Income in the Netherlands. However, no definite answer is given about this possible hurdle, nor is the minister referring to any specific European legislation that might stand in the way of implementing a Basic Income in The Netherlands.
During the meeting the Minister confirms he is not in favour of new research, as enough research has been done. He indicates the possibility that the House of Representatives would have to order an investigation by itself.
2. More extended research on the effect of a basic income on the state’s budget
Klein states, the research on the impact on the state’s budget done so far, has been incomplete regarding the domains in which the effect of basic income can be expected. He questions the conclusions of previous research on the effect of a Basic Income on the state’s budget and formulates a list of examples of positive side effects that were not included in the calculations (i.e. effect on health, housing market, executional costs, increased entrepreneurship and participation in labour). He asks for new research where these effects will be included.
3. A debate in the House of Representatives
During the meeting of the Committee of Social Affairs and Employment on September 19th, seven political parties of the House of Representatives of the Dutch Parliament were represented: Socialist Party (SP), Green Left (GL), Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), Democrats 66 (D66), Labour Party (PvdA) and of course Klein / Cultural Liberal Party (Vrijzinnige Partij).
The main decision to be made during the debate: Is the House of Representatives willing to order an investigation by the Central Planning Agency (CPB) and the Socio-Cultural Planning Agency (SCP) for an explorative study on the financial / socio-economic as well as the behavioral aspects of an unconditional basic income?
The VVD is firmly against a basic income, where in the past the option was openly supported by the VVD-Minister of Economic Affairs, Gerrit Zalm. An unconditional Basic Income is an unfair solution according to the right wing-party nowadays, arguing as follows: the working part of the population pays for the people sitting at home. It is senseless, anti social and unaffordable. What if everyone chooses to do fun things instead of going to work? The effect of an unconditional Basic Income will be less participation in labour, resulting in a decrease in tax-income. We already have too many regulations that discourage people to go to work. Freedom of choice for people that is paid by others is not a dream but a nightmare. No further research is needed according to the VVD.
All other parties first have questions about the note of initiative and ask for further information. What will happen to the current social security system, what will be the cost of a basic income and how will it be financed?
In response to these questions, Klein hands out an estimate of the cost (130 billion euros) of implementing an unconditional Basic Income of 800 euros per person and a proposal of how this could be financed. He also alters his initial inclusion criterion for a basic income (living 10 years in the Netherlands) towards people with a Dutch residence permit. He emphasizes the starting point is a positive image of citizens, where most people want to participate in society in a good way. A basic Income should be seen as a springboard, not a safety net. He states that unpaid work can be as beneficial for society as paid work.
Green Left is the party most positive towards researching the effects of a Basic Income, but does not support the idea of an income guaranteed for everyone. Green Left is in favour of a looser link between work and income but wants different options to be investigated, e.g. Basic Income, negative income tax and dividend on robotics.
All parties, except the VVD, asked for a suspension of the meeting to another date to be able to study Kleins’ financial proposal. A date will be chosen during the next meeting of the committee.
To be continued…
Info and links
A report of the meeting can be found here (in Dutch)
Both letters (Klein’s note of initiative and Assher’s response) can be found here (in Dutch).
Related Basic Income News articles:
Special thanks to Josh Martin, and Cameron McLeod for reviewing this article.
Meeting of Committee of Social Affairs and Employment – Hilde Latour 19 sep 2016