How a World Basic Income can be sort of mostly free.
The economic downturn associated with the coronavirus is causing a humanitarian and economic disaster. Now is the time to push for a World Basic Income (WBI) paid to every human on the planet. It should be high enough to cover the cost of living, at least in the developing world. This payment would not just stave off hunger and extreme poverty, but also work as a general stimulus for the global economy, which faces a potentially catastrophic contraction.
While the greatest benefits of this payment would be felt in the developing world, where the increase in income would be bigger in proportion to their current income, it would also provide important benefits to the developed world.
A WBI would pump demand into the global economy by raising the non-wage incomes of the population as a whole, including workers. This would reshape the global labour market, lessening migration pressures and the severity of cross border wage competition, because workers in and from the developing world, protected from absolute destitution, would be less inclined to work in appalling conditions for miserable wages.
There would also be a dramatic increase in consumer spending power in developing nations, which would increase the number of workers required to meet domestic demand for goods and services, meaning fewer still would be available to work producing exports to the developed world. At the same time the market for exports from the developed world would expand.
This would compound the original effect, and further strengthen the position of workers in the US “rust belt,” and equivalent populations in other developed countries, whose jobs would become harder to send offshore.
WBI would do this without the implementation of tariffs, which might spiral into a trade war, further contracting the global economy. A WBI is a mechanism that can achieve the same goals in terms of protecting developed world jobs and wages, without adding to the contractionary pressures that the global economy faces.
A payment like this is not a new idea, it even has a dedicated NGO, simply called “World Basic Income.” They propose a payment of $30 USD a month. Which they say could be funded using “rents” on global commons like airspace, and “international taxes” such as a carbon tax.
But it is a mistake to assume that we have to first “gather up” the money before we can pay it out.
Since the pandemic began, they are also starting to question this. Having recently pondered whether in “emergency times such as these, borrowing or currency creation could also be used to quickly generate the money needed.”
This is an encouraging sign. But they still seem to be of the view that money creation or borrowing as inherently problematic, if perhaps necessary given the current situation. This is the wrong way of thinking about it. Money creation and deficit spending are not signs of desperation, foolishness, or failure. They are necessary tools for good economic management, in relatively “normal” times as well as emergencies. It is not that, as it is sometimes put, “deficits don’t matter”, it is that deficits are good. The theory behind this is a little complex but it can be summarised as it is here by Cory Doctorow:
Government debts are where our money comes from. Governments spend money into existence: if they “balance their budgets” then they tax all that money back out again. That’s why austerity always leads to economic contraction — governments are taxing away too much money.
There’s one other source of money, of course: bank loans. Banks have governments charters to loan money that they don’t actually have on hand (contrary to what you’ve been taught, banks don’t loan out their deposits).
When there’s not enough government money in circulation, people seek bank loans to fill the gap. Unlike federal debts, bank loans turn a profit for bank investors. The more austerity, the more bank loans, the more profits for the finance sector (at everyone else’s expense).
The empirical case is pretty simple, and arguably even stronger: The US government has run deficits nearly every year since the early 30s. For all its current woes, the US is in a far better economic state now than it was then. In fact, some of the best years, like the “post-war boom,” were immediately preceded by the highest levels of deficit spending (the largest injections of cash into the real economy).
The same is true for most developed economies. Governments always promise budget surpluses, but rarely deliver. And that’s a good thing, because what they practice is better than what they preach.
So when it comes to a universal basic income, even in the “good” times, the best answer to the question: “how will we pay for it?” is that we will not pay for it.
At least not all of it, not directly, and certainly not upfront. If we do pay for it upfront, we suck as much money out of the economy as we pump in.
A “costed” or “revenue neutral” UBI plan would help protect the poorest from the effects of the crisis, but it would stunt the stimulatory effect we are also aiming to achieve. There would still be some stimulatory effects. Transferring income to poorer people leads to a greater portion of that income being spent, so the velocity of money (the overall rate of spending in the economy) increases and with it GDP. But expanding supply and velocity simultaneously, as a fiat-funded UBI could, would work much better.
In essence, we should just get the money the same way we ultimately get all money: We just collectively believe it into existence. This has the advantage that it doesn’t require us to convince or compel anyone to pony up in advance. And it would mean we could pay a higher WBI, starting perhaps at $1.90 USD a day, the UN’s “internationally agreed poverty line” , and then, when the sky doesn’t fall, rising further, perhaps to as much as five or ten dollars a day over the course of several years or a decade.
Of course, no one can predict in advance how people, and therefore the world economy, would really respond to a payment of this level. No one knows what the ideal level for a WBI is. But there’s no reason to think it is zero.
The global charity and advocacy organisation Oxfam does not back a WBI, but does explicitly recommend a kind of fiat money creation, or something very much like it. In a recent media briefing entitled Dignity Not Destitution it lays out suggestions for responding to the hardship caused by the pandemic. The plan includes the allocation of a trillion dollars worth of Special Drawing Rights, which are interest-bearing assets, a bit like treasury bonds, created by the IMF. SDRs are defined in relation to five major global currencies and can be used by nations to pay back debts to the IMF, or traded with each other for liquid currency.
By rapidly increasing the supply of this “paper gold”, as they did following the 2008 financial crisis, the IMF could help nations around the world increase their liquidity, allowing them to spend money to help the needy. This has also been requested by a number of nations and the IMF has said it is “exploring” that option.
Here we see a pattern emerging at the global level which resembles closely that developing at the level of national policy discourse.
Modern Monetary Theory advocates like Stephanie Kelton argue that the US government cannot run out of money any more than a sports arena can run out of points. But they do not support UBI, arguing instead for a Federal Job Guarantee. UBI advocates like Andrew Yang want a UBI but think they need to pay for it pretty much upfront with increased tax revenues.
But a growing cohort of thinkers are beginning to examine what happens when these herecies intersect. UBI advocate Alex Howlett is one of them. He coined the term Consumer Monetary Theory or CMT to distinguish his view from MMT. Another is Geoff Crocker, who talks of “Basic Income and Sovereign Money”. Martin Wolf, associate editor and chief economics commentator at the Financial Times, also backs both soft money theory and a UBI, as does Australian heterodox economist Steve Keen.
The four thinkers listed in the bottom right square all have unique perspectives, and among them only Howlett identifies their work with the CMT title. However it seems useful to me as an umbrella term for those who agree with MMT regarding the nature and constraints of government spending, but who promote a Basic Income rather than a Job Guarantee.
It is important to note that both MMT and CMT do think tax policies matter, just not in the ways we are usually told they do. One role they see for taxes that is relevant to this proposal is the idea that taxes demanded by a government in a specific currency help ensure the value and widespread acceptance of that currency, another is the way taxes help manage the build-up of currency and the amount of spending in the economy to prevent inflation.
In conventional thinking, taxes fill a bucket, the “government coffers”, and spending is a hole in that bucket, through which money escapes. In soft currency thinking, spending is the inflow of money, the bucket is a flower-pot — representing the economy — which requires frequent watering. Taxes are the drainage holes, there to stop the soil getting too saturated.
If we were to look clearly at the flowerpot representing the world economy, we would see the soil is bone dry. It is worst at the edges, where the dieback has already started, but the center, where the roots are thickest and thirstiest, is not far behind. The plant is starting to wilt. The good news is that the water is free. It is time to get the hose, attach a spray nozzle, and spray.
The Great Global Monetary Hack
The world lacks a true global reserve. The US dollar is the main currency of global trade, but that role is diminishing, and in any case it is managed by a government and central bank who are only mandated to pay attention to the needs of the global economy as and when these needs affect their domestic goals.
In terms of a truly global, globally managed, reserve, SDRs are the closest thing we’ve got. We cannot use them directly for a WBI, since they can only be held by nation states and other “designated holders”. But these are considered durably credible enough that their value held in 2008, even as the total stock increased roughly 10 fold, from around $20 billion to $200 billion. The additional trillion Oxfam have recommended be created, divided by 8 billion is $125 per person, or 34 cents a day for a year. It is not enough. But we’re getting somewhere.
Since individual human beings cannot hold SDRs, which are, formally, not money. We could issue a new currency, tied to these. A People’s Bancor, in honour of Keynes’s proposed global currency.
The basic framework would be:
The IMF announces it will be holding an auction of SDRs starting in say, three months time, and continuing at regular intervals from then onward, that these auctions will be conducted using the new currency: the People’s Bancor.
The IMF creates digital wallets for the citizens of all participating nations and starts to issue these new digital credits (which may be cryptographically minted) at regular intervals directly to every adult individual on the planet.
Governments exchange national currency to obtain PBs. Either directly or by accepting them as a means of (partially) paying (some) taxes. This would cause businesses, individuals and exchanges to gain confidence in the new currency.
Governments buy SDRs from the IMF with PBs, which are then taken out of circulation.
Poorer nations, especially, could be guaranteed a certain quota at a set price, separate to the portion auctioned in batches.
Another way to validate this currency would be by charging global taxes in it.
A United Nations could create a world tax authority and through it could demand taxes in this new currency. These should be demanded, at least at first, from the national governments themselves, who would thus be compelled to buy PBs using local currency.
So long as the monetary metabolism can be kept active, substantially more can be issued in currency than is collected in taxes.
A carbon tax is, of course, an important idea. And so is a tax on military budgets, if you think about it. This is a great opportunity to go after tax havens and the many billions held there illegitimately?
We must avoid this temptation to fix everything at once, and stay focussed. The number one priority is for these global taxes to validate the currency. And we need it to happen fast. We do not have time for nations to enter into complex multilateral bargains over the rules of such a system. We need something that is equally attractive to all parties.
What I suggest is that, at least at the start, we tax the money itself. At the end of each financial year, the government could be liable for a sum of PBs equal to, for example, 20 percent of the amount received by their population over the previous 12 months.
As it happens, this stands in stark contrast to the position taken by Howlett, who as I mentioned before coined the term Consumer Monetary Theory. He says that “tax revenue is meaningless” and that we should therefore focus on taxing the specific behaviours and phenomena we want to discourage. Since we want economic activity, money is the worst thing to tax. This is a rule I generally agree with, but this is one case (and there are others) where it makes sense to make an exception.
By removing the complications implicit in attaching these initial taxes to anything in particular, we remove reasons for various countries to say no. If we view the government as an extension of the population, which it rightly should be, then all we are asking them to do is accept a dollar, on the basis they will later have to pay back 20 cents.
Imagine a simplified example where a country’s population receives 100 PBs a year in total.
Here’s how that would play out over the next twenty years:
As the graph shows, the national stock of PBs would grow over time as the amount received by the population outpaces the amount the government has paid in global taxes. So long as the rate of taxation is less than 50 percent, this will be the case.
This rate wouldn’t, obviously, be something that we could “set and forget” but would be a policy lever, similar to central bank interest rates, which could be adjusted in response to real world results. If the currency starts to lose value, the rate should be increased, if its value is too high relative to national currencies, it should be decreased.
Such an agreement would be most perfectly championed by the G20, then implemented by the IMF and UN in concert, with the IMF issuing the currency and the UN collecting (and destroying) it.
But any group of nations collectively representing a significant chunk of world product could also create their own version of this through a treaty outside existing global structures. This currency club could grow gracefully, one new member country at a time. Countries should be free to opt out at any time, making joining the obvious choice.
It would have to have a central administrative office, with dedicated staff alongside observers and advisors from member nations working to regularly assess the effectiveness of the current settings, and adjust UBI levels, taxes due, the number and type of SDR sales (assuming IMF cooperation), and so on.
Perhaps the best thing about this plan is the lack of downsides. It is, I contend, counterintuitively plausible that national governments would sign up for such a plan, especially as the economic crisis, likely to be the worst in a century, deepens.
If it does not work, then the currency will be stupidly cheap and the participant governments will easily be able to get enough to cover their obligations.
If it does work, and the value of the currency holds, then their economy is experiencing a sudden inflow of valuable currency, equivalent to a steady and substantial increase in remittances. There would be, inevitably, some cost to the local governments, in that they would either exchange their national currency for PBs, or accept it in taxes (instead of their national currency). But every dollar, pound, yen, rupee or dinar spent in this manner would have many times the stimulatory effect of normal spending, since when you buy one PB, you validate the rest out there in circulation. They could also just just print the money with which to make these transactions, since their own citizens will in most cases accept this as payment.
Governments that do not want to do this, or could not for some reason (a lack of their own currency, for example) could simply introduce a new tax on the wealthy and/or high-income earners, payable in PBs. This would compel these better-off members of society to exchange some of whatever currency they have for PBs. The effect of this transfer would be similarly multiplied as the other PBs in circulation were validated by it. Whether it is stimulatory spending or this tax-driven redistribution, you get much more bang for your buck this way than you would usually.
If it works too well, and the new currency is valued too highly against local currencies, making it difficult for governments to meet their tax obligations without inflating their own currencies, that means we can print and distribute more, until the price of a PB falls (while the value of the basic income increases), or lower these tax obligations.
This plan will not solve every problem, but it would be the biggest economic stimulus, and the greatest step towards ending deprivation, so far in the history of humanity. It is of course optimistic to imagine that our leaders are capable of seeing clearly enough, and acting boldly enough, to set a plan like this in motion. But sometimes a crisis can bring out the best in people, and the economic crisis, which will extend beyond the pandemic, may not give them the option of sticking to conventional responses.
We stand at a crossroads. Our great depression threatens to create a larger and more permanent underclass in the United States, as Congress loots the economic system for over $5 trillion in bailouts for the wealthy. Brave protestors and disaffected rioters have taken to the streets to speak truth to American white supremacy, even in the midst of a pandemic that threatens the lives of Black and working-class Americans the most.
George Floyd’s murder inspires unimaginable pain. We lost a soul, a neighbor, a friend, and for many—a brother—to the hands of injustice. Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Laquan McDonald, and Kalief Browder. Countless people have been stolen from their families. From every city in America. Because they were black.
To say that Black Americans live in a state of terror at the hands of unjust policing, vigilantes, and the criminal justice system is an understatement. To many, it is a militarized occupation of the cities built by their labor, in this century, and the labor of their ancestors dating back almost four hundred years.
If you name a disease in American society, whether it be heart attacks or COVID-19, poverty, or evictions, Black Americans are disproportionately brutalized. The underlying disease is white supremacy, in all its heinous and hidden forms. It hides in white systems. And it hides in white people’s hearts. The United States never achieved freedom for Black Americans. As Fredrick Douglass noted, as wage slavery and disenfranchisement replaced slavery after the Civil War, “Emancipation for the Negro was freedom to hunger, freedom to the winds and rains of heaven, freedom without roofs to cover their heads… it was freedom and famine at the same time.”
Universal basic income, an unconditional payment to all rooted in the belief that everyone has a right to natural resources and the economic fruits of our labor, represents a way to make economic freedom a reality. For Black and brown Americans, it will help counter many of the innumerable barriers to voting: the cost of voting documents, forced relocation, the inability to take off work to vote, intergenerational nihilism, and the economic insecurity that makes it impossible for poor Americans to run for office themselves. Universal Basic Income posits that an individual’s right to life, particularly in a world scourged by a pandemic, should not depend on the profit-driven interest of a corporate employer. Its philosophy contends that the more conditions put on accessing economic relief, the harder it is for people to use and access it — as any person who has received welfare or applied for unemployment benefits will tell you.
In his address to Stanford in 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. famously said that riots “are the language of the unheard” for those denied suffrage or recourse through the political system. Less appreciated is what he said immediately after: “Now one of the answers it seems to me, is a guaranteed annual income, a guaranteed minimum income for all people, and for all families of our country.”
Rooting his philosophy in a politics of hope, King called on us to implement policies that fundamentally transform government. Because millions have taken to the streets, the elite finally listens in fear, making this transformation possible. Universal Basic Income is fundamental for restoring democracy, a social contract that lays the groundwork for peace and justice. We need this compromise more than ever as inequality reaches record levels, authoritarian regimes strip ordinary people of their rights, and the destruction of our planet continues unabated. With more climate and pandemic crises on the horizon, how long will it take elites to realize that this economic system threatens the rise of violent populism?
As authoritarianism reasserts itself in the United States, Brazil, India, China, and Russia with mass surveillance and information warfare, the window for a peaceful resolution is fast departing. Now more than ever, Black and brown Americans and their allies have shown us that our only hope is taking action to demand our rights be protected. And we must be willing to risk our lives to ensure those rights are backed by transformational policies like Universal Basic Income.
Let us use this moment to demand comprehensive racial and economic justice for our nations. We owe George Floyd no less.
Article By James Davis
Picture Creator: Jesse Costa
Picture Copyright: Jesse Costa/WBUR
A corona is the halo of light around the solar eclipse. The coronavirus crisis can ensure a more balanced economy. Care and solidarity must support our economy and society.
Under a crystal-clear sky and the chirping of birds, our economy glides into a state of slow motion. Foremost, the virus is a drama and poses a great risk for society and its people. Next to that, it is also a strange experience. It is quiet, mostly dogs with their owners populate the streets.
Only “vital functions” are fulfilled. Non-vital employees have to stay at home or work from home. They are not really necessary. Childcare is only available for people who work in healthcare, and other employees that we really cannot do without. The rest must arrange childcare themselves. Raising children is a vital function in society, and suddenly childcare is too.
This is remarkable. Our view of the economy and income is rapidly changing. Our values change. The term “Working Netherlands” takes on a different meaning than before. Our health is number one, and better-paid employees sit at home these days. We have traded shopping for a quiet walk. Nature makes itself heard, people no longer dominate everything.
And that new reality leads, next to all the illness and disruption, to crucial reflection. Considering how we have organized our society and our economy. We reflect on the value of well-paid, low-paid, and unpaid labor for the economy and our society. We reflect on the value of (working) time. And we reflect on what everything is all about.
Ever since the coronavirus spread throughout the world, there is great appreciation for the people who work in healthcare. Everyone now sees that these vital functions are worth a lot, but that at the same time they are not the highest-paying jobs.
It started with applause from balconies in Spain and Italy, followed by applause and flags in the Netherlands. A standing ovation. Professionals take care of the sick and are at risk themselves. This crucial interest is now visible and visibly appreciated.
In addition, there are care activities that are not paid. We also applaud all these unpaid people! Unpaid care activities, such as care for children, family, for the earth, the environment, social contacts, and culture, are vital as well. And this is more visible as well. In this time of crisis in the Netherlands, we are seeing more solidarity and more unpaid voluntary initiatives.
A different world
The current old economy is being hit hard, and we will soon have to deal with it when this is over. We are curious to hear what Prime Minister Rutte will say on behalf of the national government. Will it again be: “Buy the car you wanted for a long time”, trying to stimulate consumerism? Or does this crisis bring a different vision and a different world closer than ever?
Will there be a reflection on our incomplete society with our focus on rules and procedures? We need a vision of how we can organize society differently. A society where not money but people are completely central again.
Once again: paralyzing the current economy gives us time to reflect on this and think about a different economy. An economy in which we realize that it mainly consists of services and care. An economy in which solidarity and security of existence are paramount.
Making unpaid work visible
The crisis is a disaster, but it also shows us where we come short. And it brings up essential questions. How can we take better care of each other? How can we take better care of our Earth? How can we also make unpaid intrinsically-motivated care work visible in our economic model?
We should think about care credits. Some examples: a pension for unpaid caregivers, a universal global price for oxygen, better reimbursements for volunteers. And yes, we should consider a universal basic income.
These proposals and ideas can be a lever for changing values and appreciation for all the (unpaid) care work and solidarity that is now visible in this crisis. And these measures can be a safeguard to achieve a different society and a new economic model. Because there is no one who has never been taken care of, and everyone will ever take care of someone.
A corona is the halo of light around the solar eclipse. A fragile light shines behind the dark. The coronavirus crisis can provide a more balanced picture of the economy. It is not the banks and stock markets, but it is solidarity and care that support our economy and society.
It’s time for a new story.
Jan Atze Nicolai
Political thinker and poet
Member of the Board of Vereniging Basisinkomen (BIEN member)a
Blogger’s note:this post is by a guest contributor, Stacey Rutland. The opinions expressed are hers alone. They are not necessarily shared by me or by the Basic Income Earth Network. -Karl Widerquist
Super Tuesday is extra super this year!
Three incredible congressional candidates are running on UBI and taking on the establishment in California (LA, SF, and Southeast CA). Income Movement is proud to endorse David Kim, James Ellars, and Agatha Bacelar.
Follow them, donate to them, vote for them. Or reach out to your friends and family who are in these districts and make sure they know there is a candidate on their ballot worth supporting. First and second place move onto the general in California which means all three of these candidates are super competitive.
Real change happens at the ballot box. It starts now. #incomemovement #ubi #basicincome
UBI Candidate Highlight: Super Tuesday
There are three UBI candidates running for Congress with primaries tomorrow! 24 hours is more than enough time to make a difference. Tweet, share, and bother your friends in California to vote for these basic income advocates. We’ll be highlighting more candidates across the country soon.
Agatha Bacelar: Congress, CA-12 (San Francisco) Primary Election: March 3, 2020
Running against Nancy Pelosi is a 28-year-old Brazilian immigrant and San Franciscan. She’s running for Congress because we must act on climate, must reduce systemic inequalities, and must make our representatives reflective of and responsive to the people. San Francisco has a powerful legacy. Agatha believes it’s time to reclaim its roots and elect a Congresswoman who will represent the 100%.
James Ellars: Congress, CA-08 (Southeast CA)
Primary Election: March 3, 2020
James is the fourth of six children, and grew up in a working class family in southern California. James supports policies like Democracy Dollars and the Freedom Dividend paired with a VAT. Income Movement is proud to support James Ellars for Congress.
David Kim: Congress, CA-34 (Los Angeles) Primary Election: March 3, 2020
David is an attorney, author, and community activist running against an establishment Democrat. David’s parents immigrated to the U.S. from Korea. David is running to pass basic income and medicare for all, relieve student debt, and eradicate poverty for all. Income Movement is proud to support David Kim for Congress.
There is a fear that a disproportionate part of Universal Basic Income would be paid to housing. Under current circumstances, a large portion of the income is paid to rent. A person UK in 2019, if receiving benefits only, in many cases is paying over fifty percent of their income for housing. If UBI was to come into effect, it is possible the same problem would occur. On the minimum wage in the UK (currently £8.21 per hour), over 43 percent of the income of a person living in a city will go to renting a single room.
If UBI becomes a transfer of funds from everybody in the economy to the landlords in the economy, then it cannot be progressive. These landlords are not particularly in need or poor. Therefore, the campaign for UBI must be approached keeping in mind where that income ends up.
Looking at rent rises in the last 29 years, one can see that that inflation between 1989 and 2019 makes everything roughly two and half times more expensive. So, anything that is £1 will be £2.50 today. Another way to put it is that £1 in 1989 is equal to £2.50 today. In the same time, the lowest wage rose from about £3.00 to £8.21 and tax on the minimum full-time wage decreases from twelve percent to five percent.
The biggest difference is rent. In terms of rent, £1 is equal to £10.50, or what was a £50 per calendar month is now £550.00 pcm. In buying terms, the lowest-priced homes cost about £35,000 in 1989 or six times the minimum wage annual income. In 2019, the average price of a two-bedroom flat varies widely. However, it is not uncommon to see a two-bedroom flat priced at £200,000 or twelve times the minimum wage. This would indicate that buying a house takes a similar trajectory as rent. In 1989, a person could have obtained a secure home, and put aside some money that comprises the state pension. If the property prices and rent had not risen and had stayed at about 9 percent of minimum income wages today, then this would be the case too. Even If there was a shortage of housing, they would have been able to initiate a build via a housing association or even through their own income.
Table 1 Wage falls as rent rises
Annual Disposable Income (after rent, tax and national insurance)
% of Minimum Wage for rent (After Tax and NI)
% of Minimum Wage paid for tax factoring in tax free allowance
However, the rent and property price rise that took place meant that each time the minimum wage was raised (in line with inflation) to keep somebody at the same standard of living on minimum wage, the rent rise took a larger and larger portion of their income. In the beginning, the rent rise takes 25 percent of their pay rise, then taking about 50% of their pay rise, and in many years is a 100 percent or near 100 percent. In a few cases, it was more than 100 percent.
Since the minimum wage increase to keep up with inflation and they are handing over above the calculated inflation for rent to their landlords, they are no longer gaining the additional money to stay at the same standard of living. Their wage is dropping and their ability to save and prepare for the future is dropping. For example, in 1989, for every £1 a person gives 9 percent or 9p to rent. In 2019, for every £2.50 roughly equal to £1 then, a person gives £1.07 to their landlord or 43 percent.
If we look at rent increment per year and pay increment per year, taking the actual rises in the minimum wage from government records, and factoring the rent rise equally distributed over the full twenty-nine years. In order to get from a monthly rent of £50pcm to £550pcm. If equally distribute, then from about 1990 to 1999, the pay rise would have been higher than the rent rise. Some years all of the pay rise is transferred to the landlord.
In 1990, about a quarter of the pay rise is a transfer to the landlord. In 1999, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2019, the full pay rise is transferred to the landlord. In most other years about 40 percent to 98 percent is transferred to the landlord except for five years.
For rent to rise from 9 percent to 43 percent of the minimum wage, the rent must have risen in some years higher than their pay rises. This would have been reflected differently in different accommodations. However, everybody who was renting would have observed the change at some point. In the following example, the rent rise is assumed to be equally distributed across the years, to show how the rent could have moved from £40pcm to £550pcm.
What about tax, during the same period the tax goes from 12 percent of the minimum wage to about 5 percent. Comparing tax and rent, the tax amount starts out higher than rent. By 1992 tax and rent are about equal outgoings, and then slowly rent increases tenfold, and tax decreases to about half the share it was in 1989. The rent doubles tax in 1998, trebles in the early 2000s and by 2015 it is ten times the rent, as an annual outgoing for a person on the minimum wage.
Disposable income moves in the reverse direction. In 1990, a person on minimum wage has almost ten times the disposable income than they pay on rent. Disposable income after rent, tax, and national insurance contributions are £4,658.75, while rent is £480 per year. In 1996 it is six times, in 2002 it is four times and so on. By 2018 it is less than 1.5 times, and if the trend continues by 2022, rent will be higher than disposable income.
If house prices and all other items had increased in-line with inflation and the minimum wage pay rise was the same, then a person would have the potential of savings to purchase a home or build a home with about half their accumulated life’s income. When they sold that home, they would regain the total value, less depreciation of the same home.
Table 2 shows a scenario of house prices had not risen.
Monthly rent went from £40 to 550pcm in 29 years.
Annual Tax for the year
Annual Rent (12 Months)
After RENT and Tax, NI per year
% of Minimum Wage for Rent (After Tax and NI)
% of Minimum Wage paid for tax factoring in tax free allowance
However, they would not have been able to set aside enough money to raise one or two children. The calculation for a child would be half the cost of living between age 0 to age 18, at half the cost of an adult. However, testing of goods and services for children are actually coming to a price of roughly half the cost of living, as they are assumed to have done in the past.
So, to reiterate, the minimum wage over a lifetime will not deliver to either a one- or two-income household, the returns for a home, investment in education to give higher wage opportunity, and a pension or putting aside money first to have children, plus the cost of bringing up children. Therefore, there is no choice for people on the minimum wage but to look for further state support. However, the truth of the matter much denied is, who is taking the subsidy, the person on minimum wage or precarious jobs, the end customers that are being given a lower price based on a low wage. The landlord is taking 43 percent of the income in real terms whether sourced in benefits or wage, or the hiring organizations who are saving a larger percentage of their budget for others who are paid more. Finally, that subsidy goes to shareholders whether it ends up mostly in the pocket of a small set of people, or a retirement fund which funds a large set of people. What is clear, people on minimum wage should not be blamed or made to feel guilty because of their poverty.
And the Universal Basic Income is an idea that can only be realized if each of the key areas of expense for a human being to live takes a reasonable proportion of the income. Otherwise, Universal Basic Income is just a guaranteed income for landlords today and maybe another industry tomorrow, and will fail to supply the basic set of goods and services it is designed to guarantee.
There are data gaps in the Rent to Income Ratio, the most Signiant of which are explained below
The starting rent in 1990 of 40pcm is derived from my own personal experience of renting a double room in a shared house. I remember at the time I chose a room that I could be comfortable in, and did not choose the cheapest room. I was moving from a room with relatives, where I paid £30pcm. The common room price in loot the listings paper which was the main source for finding lettings at the time was 30pcm to 50pcm, I believe that the bills were not included. The rent in 2019 was derived from a search for a double room on a website. There are many rooms that are priced over today’s rent of £550, which seem to be most rooms. However, through many searches of different websites, I can see that it is a common rent for a room in that area. This data could be improved by searching through archived copies of listings papers for the time. There are many rooms advertised at about £200 more than the rent I have quoted in some cities.
From starting rent to today’s rent, I am estimating a % increase year on year, equally distributed. This would end up with today’s rent. For future rent, I am taking the same % increase forward for a further twenty years
Minimum Wage: When referring to minimum wage, I am always assuming the full adult minimum wage and not the minimum wage for young adults
Minimum Wage in 1990 to 1998 I have real data from .gov site and from the guardian site from 1999. This is the year the minimum wage came into effect. Prior to this I have a sketchy memory of my take home pay in 1990. Therefore, the start salary £3.00 per hour is pure guess and would be slightly lower if I calculated using the future trend. Tracing back this goes to about £2.70. I feel that this would not be accurate as my take home pay would have been lower.
Future Minimum Wage 2019 to 2039 If I estimate a year on year % increase to take me from £3 to £8.20. The % increase is about 3.5% year on year. I am then using this for future years.
Minimum Wage 1999 to 2019 Data from tables on .gov websites and guardian websites. This data does not take into account which month the change came into effect and assumes a full year at the minimum wage increment for the year. This data could be improved.
If the rent year is 1990. The tax is calculated using figures for 1990, and the calculation is done against the full year from 1990 till today, therefore this data does not use the previous tax year for the last three months of the financial year. This would mean that tax would be slightly lower than shown here. Tax Personal Allowance, and all other calculations involving tax, including salary after tax also ignore the financial year change over. Therefore, this data could be improved. The overall trend of rent rises outstripping pay rises would not change.
National Insurance NI for 1990 to 1998 has been put at zero, because of confusion about the rules at the time. However, I believe it to be quite low for the minimum wage because of the exemptions for low wage at the time. This data could therefore be improved.
The 2020 BIEN Congress was to be held in Brisbane in Australia from the 28th to the 30th September 2020. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the event has been cancelled. BIEN’s Executive Committee and the Scottish and Australian congress Local Organising Committees have agreed the following statement: ‘The Scottish and Australian Congress Local Organisation Committees have agreed that the current plan is to hold the 2021 BIEN congress in Scotland and the 2022 BIEN congress in Australia.’
A Basic Income is a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means-test or work requirement. Read more