The Programme for Government published by Ireland’s new Coalition Government on 27th June, 2020 committed to the introduction of a universal basic income pilot within the lifetime of the Government. Subsequently, the Report of the Arts and Culture Recovery Taskforce relied on this commitment when it put forward its proposals for a 3-year Basic Income pilot for workers in the Arts sector.
In Ireland’s Budget for 2022, Government included an allocation of €25m for a Basic Income scheme for artists. While details are sketchy, it would appear that this is intended to fund some 2,000 artists. As this pilot scheme won’t start paying out money till April 2022, it should be possible to pay €325 to 2,000 artists in 2022 within the budget figure of €25m. This is the payment level recommended in the Report of the Arts and Culture Recovery Taskforce.
This initiative is most welcome as it progresses the discussion and piloting of Basic Income in Ireland. As well as this, artists are appropriate subjects for the pilot. They have suffered a great deal during the pandemic and should be supported through these difficult times.
However, Ireland can’t afford to pay a Basic Income of €325 per week to the whole population; it is only realistic to pay a maximum of around €208 as outlined by Social Justice Ireland in its recent study on this issue. To resolve this dilemma and ensure the initiative really is a Universal Basic Income pilot, Government could pay these artists €208 as a Basic Income and an additional €117 as an Artists Supplement.
It can be expected that UBI would have two kinds of impact:
- Activity, e.g. entrepreneurial, increased/decreased output;
- Wellness, e.g. financial security, stress levels.
Regarding the ‘Activity’ impact, it is very likely that the evaluation of the pilot will show that most artists in the pilot don’t watch TV all day. Rather, they will be seen to engage in more artistic activity; they may even generate more market income; they are likely to report that their work is of higher quality; they develop their skills etc. Consequently, if a BI of €325 per week doesn’t elicit a lazy response, surely €208 would not either!
Faced with the above hypothetical findings, I think that those who believe that welfare rates should be kept low so as to push people into working would have to accept the conclusion that there is little to fear from the possibility of laziness with a BI of €208 per week for the whole adult population.
Regarding the ‘Wellness’ impact, it is most likely that the evaluation findings will be positive, e.g. greater financial security, less stress etc. It may be reasonable to speculate that this impact would be reduced if the BI payment were reduced. However, the skeptics on UBI are most interested in the labour market response. They are likely to be less interested in the wellness findings and less concerned if these benefits were reduced somewhat when faced with a BI of €208 per week.
Social Justice Ireland will continue to monitor this initiative as it develops.