Written by: Mônica Dallari and Eduardo Matarazzo Suplicy
After the article “A Critical Poverty Eradication Experiment in Kenya”, published in the last issue of the BIEN News Flash, we now offer this complement with the interviews of the beneficiaries of the UBI in the rural villages of Kenya.
Stimulus to work
Richard O., 43, is a father of nine children. The couple and the eldest son, aged 18, receive a basic income. Richard paid school fees for his children to study and bought goats, $150 and $200 USD each. He also bought a cow for $250, which provides milk for the family. Now he wants a bull, which costs $300. Richard says basic income has encouraged him to work harder: “when there is opportunity, ambition grows”, he explains. “The benefit has created the possibility for people to dream of a better life.” Richard is dreaming.
Jane M. feels stronger now with basic income because she has the power to decide how the best use of her benefit. She and her husband have the same power in the negotiations. She felt very good to gain independence. Jane says that the basic income comes along with the responsibility of making the best use of resources, for being unconditional. As a seamstress, she receives $0.50 a day. She participates in a group of 10 women in the village who help each other. Once a month, they all get together and deliver $10 to one of them. By relay, one of the beneficiaries gets $100 each. Jane waits her turn, she wants to invest in her own business.
Edson O.N. was happy for all the villages receiving Universal Basic Income (UBI), not just selected ones. Married, now 31 years old with two children, when he does not have occasional jobs in the field, he helps his wife sell used clothes in popular markets and gets $1. He lives in a house with a mud wall and a straw roof in his father’s terrain. He is raising money to acquire his own land and build a home for his family. He estimates that will need $1,000. The steel roof tiles, for the capture of rainwater, alone cost $210.
Reduction of domestic violence
Kennedy A.A. realized that violence and stress within families have greatly reduced with the introduction of the UBI. He is the elder of the village, a joint judge and chief of the community, not necessarily the eldest. He is often called in neighbors’ quarrels and family disputes. He is married at 43 years old with three daughters. He says: “when there is money, conflicts decrease. Men do not come back home angry and frustrated. The benefit brought peace to the families. Children, who grew humiliated in old and torn clothes, began to wear decent clothes. Access to food and medicines has improved. Everyone starts to know the feeling of well-being.”
No piper water
Nilton is 12 years old and Elvis is six years old. They are brothers and were carrying for the second time in the day buckets of water. The houses in the village don’t have sewage or piper water. In Kenya, 37 percent of the population do not have access to drinking water. Nilton and Elvis are responsible for getting water for the family. They walk about 400 meters to the reservoir. Nilton carries two buckets of 10 liters and Elvis two of 5 liters. When it rains, those who can take advantage of rainwater with the use of gutters in the steel roof, a privilege for only a few families.
Mary A. is illiterate. In the village, only 8 percent of the villagers know how to read and write. In Kenya, illiteracy reaches 22 percent of the population, but the prospect is that literacy will improve with the introduction of UBI. Now, no child leaves school. They all have food when they return home. In the village, no one else sleeps hungry. With three grandchildren in elementary education, Mary helps pay a teacher hired by the community. Since few teachers are offered by the government, parents get together to pay more teachers.
Aggrey O., 56, raises five children alone. Everyone studies. The money was primarily used to pay the high school of the two older children. Annuities can range from $300 to $550. As a farmer, Aggrey earns $1.50 a day. When the yield from his garden is very good, he can earn up to $3 a day. For him, life has improved a lot with basic income. To live it is necessary to have prosperity. He wants to send his children to university. He says that Felix, the youngest at eight years old, is very clever. “Why do I desire to send the children to university? The same way you left Brazil and are here for having studied, I also want my children to go to Brazil because they studied.”
Jane A., 76, is a widow and lives with her sister. She spends the money on medicine. Lack of sanitation causes many diseases. According to data from “Doctors Without Borders,” in 2016 there were 216 million cases of malaria in the world, with 445,000 deaths. Sub-Saharan Africa is responsible for 90 percent of the cases. Malaria is the leading cause of death in Kenya, followed by tuberculosis, a consequence of the HIV virus, which affects 1.5 percent of the population. Violence against women is one of the main causes of the spread of HIV.
Polygamy and the Marriage Law
Ruth O., 34, is the second wife of a bigamy husband. She has three daughters and takes care of five orphans: a nephew and four children from her husband’s first wife, who died in 2011. As the wives get along well, which is rare in these situations, Ruth decided to raise the children when their mother passed away. Frequently in cases of polygamy, wives live in separate houses with their children, but they share the same family terrain. The relations are not easy, the treatments are differentiated, a lot of rivalry arises between the children and the women. The first wife has certain privileges and rights, for being the only relationship officially recognized. There is no law regulating the registration of other polygamous relations.
Although the 2010 Constitution does not provide for polygamy, in 2014 the Matrimonial Law was approved by the National Assembly and the Senate, and sanctioned by the president, which legalized marriage as a “monogamous or polygamous union” between men and women. The women’s claim to allow the first wife to be consulted about the convenience of her husband having a second wife was rejected by deputies of the situation and the opposition. Polygamy is valid only for men.
Victor O., 24, has a son. He lives in his mother’s house along with five brothers. He is an electrician, he repairs cell phones, radios, and electrical materials, but he has no work. Victor stopped his studies in seventh grade. Victor regrets he has no tools to perform the repairs, which ends up restricting the work a lot. He has no offer of service, so he goes from house to house. He can do three or four services a month and earns about $4 a month.
Cemetery at home
Mary S., 48, has seven children and is the second wife of polygamous husband Joseph S.O., who died in 2010 and is buried in the family backyard. In the same terrain are the houses of the two wives. According to custom, the cemetery is reserved only for those who have no family. In fact, it is the solution to bury people who die at home without any kind of medical care. In 2017, according to data from the Kenyan government, of the 190,000 deaths, 100,000 occurred in hospitals and 90,000 in the residences.
Basic Income is a radically different and yet elegantly simple notion that has been around for decades: all citizens should have an income and be allowed to maintain their dignity, simply because they are citizens in a society that is prospering. In social policy terms, this idea can be put into action by giving unconditional cash payments to citizens. In the 60s and 70s, there were several long-term Basic Income policy experiments in the USA and Canada. The goal of these experiments at the time was to see if giving people money would be a disincentive to workforce participation. In the end, there was only a very small reduction of work participation among the subjects. In the USA women worked fewer hours per week, an understandable consequence is given that there were on average 4 children per family in the study group. Young men in Canada reduced their work participation, but high school completion rate increased, with stipends enabling the pursuit of higher levels of education. Furthermore, there was an increase in divorce rates, which was the main motivator to take BasicIncome off the table at the time, but looking back seems like it was not such a bad result, Basic Income was shown to empowered women in difficult situations to be able to exit those situations.
BasicIncome has recently returned to vogue, and Canada was, until recently, conducting an experiment in the province of Ontario, led by the of the Liberal government. It was a pilot program guaranteeing an income to 4000recipients in the region an and was supposed to last three years, but it was abruptly canceled in July 31st 2018, by the newly elected Ford administration. There have been many reactions to the cancellationof this pilot program, including a class action suit filed by fourLindsey residents, represented by lawyer Mike Perry. The Basic Incomerecipients in this class action are arguing that they “made plans to improvetheir lives when they signed up for the pilot in April last year, providing thegovernment with detailed personal information to be approved and expecting thepilot to run its three-year term.” It also seems like a breach of basic socialresearch ethics and complaints have been filed to Veritas, the company the previous government hired to ensure ethical standards are metin the conduct of research involving human beings.
On the aftermath of the cancelation, and as a reaction to it, photographer JessieGolem, also a recipient in the experiment, started a portrait series named Humans of Basic Income, depicting photos of Basic Income recipients displaying placards with their stories handwritten on them. We spoke to Jessie about her experience as a recipient of the Ontario Basic Income trial and about her own experience as a recipient and her perspective on the Basic Income pilot that gave rise to her portrait series.
Can you tell me a little bit about your background?
grew up in the small town of Hanover, Ontario. I’m quite lucky and privileged
that I’m actually quite close with my family and had a stable childhood. My
parents are still together, and I grew up in the same house and attended the
same elementary school and high school. We were not rich, but we were always
provided for, and my childhood was happy, stable and peaceful. I went to school
at University of Waterloo, majoring in Religious Studies. I was also quite
religious at the time and lived at a bible college in Kitchener, but I don’t consider
myself religious anymore, and actually have an article published on the
Huffington Post on the reasons behind that decision. Later, I moved to
Hamilton, and while in Hamilton I went to school at George Brown College in the
Assaulted Women’s and Children’s Counselling and Advocacy program. I explored a
number of careers, including youth pastor, piano teacher (I’m a classical
pianist) and social worker, but I currently work as the Operations Manager at
Photographers Without Borders, and hoping to expand my career as a
photographer, storyteller, and writer.
What was your work life like before Basic Income?
I’ve had numerous jobs in my life. I have worked as a cleaning lady, I’ve worked in retail, I’ve ran kids programs and day camps and worked as a dog walker. I’ve always worked/volunteered for not-for-profits in different capacities my entire adult life. Prior to receiving Basic Income I was working as a dog walker in the mornings/afternoons, teaching piano in the evenings, and in the time in between, working at Photographers Without Borders, and working to book photography projects and grow my own freelance photography business. I had no free time. I often wouldn’t be able to get home to cook myself dinner, and I’d often find myself up until late in the night working on projects and applications.
What is Photographers Without Borders?
Photographers Without Borders (PWB) is an international non-profit that amplifies the stories of grassroots organizations all over the world by sending volunteer photographers and videographers to document the work they are doing. The organization is able to receive this footage to build their own capacity, while PWB also brings awareness to these issues through a robust social media, a print magazine and online magazine, and a video series. I have volunteered at PWB for two years, and we are on the brink of realizing some tremendous growth which would expand our capacity as an organization, and potentially offer paid positions to staff. BI gave me the time to devote to PWB full-time in order to realize that vision. Losing BI means I will have to reduce my capacity at PWB.
How did your plans get foiled by the cancelation?
I had plans to work full-time at pursuing photography and building my business to a point where it’s self-sustaining, as well as develop my capacity at PWB and help to grow the organization. I will now have to return to having multiple jobs.
Even though it was canceled, do you think that there were positive consequences for you personally from having participated in the program?
Yes. I have now experienced what living and pursuing photography full-time feels like, and I’m very excited about this life, and don’t want to return. I have used the cancellation to pursue a portrait series, and I believe this experience has made me bolder, and less afraid of taking risks in order to succeed. I threw myself into the portrait project without a lot of thought, andI’m lucky for all the miracles along the way that has kept this project alive. I’m less afraid of the consequences, and more passionate about amplifying the stories of the people I have met on this journey, who have become friends.
What do you say to critics who accuse you and others in the project of being “parasites”?
I believe this kind of dehumanizing language is extremely dangerous and opens up the opportunity for violence. With language such as “parasite” it strips a person of their humanity, saying they are only human if they contribute to the economy financially. If they are unable to do so, they aren’t human, they are parasites. In history, when dehumanizing language is used against a group of people, it allows for the justification of violence, because this person is seen as “the other” or “less than human” and therefore less of a person than the one holding the prejudice, and this allows for violence. It’s this dehumanizing language that has, historically, caused genocide and holocausts. Furthermore, this was a pilot project, and even those opposed to BI would benefit from the results of the project, so they can use the facts and data obtained to justify their opposition. And 70%of the people on the pilot project had/have jobs, myself included. Anyone who wasn’t working wasn’t doing so because they were lazy but do to physical and mental disabilities that prevented them from working.
Do you think a pilot that included more income levels and a more gradual take back rate could avoid this accusation?
I’m not sure. I think the stigma against people in poverty is only really growing, especially in this area where political views between the left and right are becoming so far divided. You still see name-calling and dehumanizing language used to describe people of opposing political views, and you see this from both liberal and conservative-minded people. It would be interesting to see what a pilot focused on a wider range of income could do and how it would affect people. I did like that Ontario focused on low-income people, because it was a study attempting to address and come up with a solution to a social service system in Ontario that I now know is deeply broken, and keeps people in poverty. It would be interesting to see a pilot focused on a wider range of incomes, however. A multi-faceted, nuanced approach would be really great to see, where different income levels in different areas, and different types ofpilots are examined. We do see this right now – there are Basic Income studiescurrently taking place in small communities and pockets all over the world.
What do you think is the main purpose of the pilots?
There are so many purposes for the pilots, but one of the bigger ones I see is that we need to examine the future of economics in our society, as the rise of AIand technology changes the future of work, and in many cases, increasingly replaces the need for human work. This is an economic change as big as the Industrial Revolution that will be realized in our lifetimes. Humans don’t need to work in a factory if a robot is doing the work, online banking has replaced the need for bank tellers, self-serve check-outs in grocery stores and kiosks in fast food restaurants have replaced cashiers, thus many industries which were so heavily reliant on human work are increasingly no longer needing humans. The question of how one works, and how one derives an income and contributes to the economy is a tremendous question to ask – it is imagining a new world. Increasingly, the issue of climate change and globalization will also affect the future of economics. A Universal Basic Income is just one idea, but it’s worth examining. Right now we are only in the stages of speculation, but research and pilot projects would be able to drive the conversation forward, answering important questions while unearthing new ones. The pilots can absolutely measure the cost benefits – how much money is saved in healthcare costs if people have access to good healthy food and don’t develop long-term health problems? What is the cost benefit if a person is avoiding committing crimes and the ensuing consequences because they have all of their basic needs taken care of? And I think it’s important to analyze different models of Basic Income because the economic needs of communities all over the world are vastly different from one another. I think what a Basic IncomeProgram in Ontario looks like can’t and shouldn’t look like what a Basic Income Program would look like in another country, or even in another part of Canada. Different areas have different economic needs, which is why I’m glad to see so many projects taking place all over the world that are trying out different models of Universal Basic Income.
In your opinion, was the pilot working in getting people to improve their situations, including your own experience?
Having a Basic Income improved my life. Everyone I’ve talked to were improving their lives, and these improvements were small, but noteworthy steps to living better lives out of poverty – lives with dignity. Small things like the ability to afford to buy new clothes, or buy healthier food at a nicer grocery store, or be able to pay bills on time. The amount was small – if someone wanted to use Basic Income as a disincentive to work, they could, however, they would not be living a nice life. It was enough to get a leg up out of poverty – move into safer housing, get a better job, and live better lives, contributing to the economy. The cost of poverty on a person’s mental wellbeing is staggering – the amount of mental energy it takes to survive will actually reduce a person’s IQ. If all their mental energy is concerned with how they will pay the next bills, where they will find food, how they will pay for health care, etc. there is no time for one to dream of bigger pursuits. I saw Basic Income buying people that precious time. To give that to someone, and then take it away with no warning, and little information, and no reason based in fact, is simply reprehensible.
The Basic Income movement is still going strong, despite the Ontario Pilot’s cancelation. In Canada, activists are fighting to take the pilot to a Federal level, and to finish the research that was started. At the time of the cancelation, there was no data analysed by the pilot, all we have are the stories of the recipients as told in Jessie’s portrait series and on a website called Basic Income Voices. These stories are powerful and provide a window into how Basic Income can bear positive, life-changing benefits for its beneficiaries. The future is here and the time to explore policy solutions is now.
Annie Lowrey is the author of “Give People Money,” the latest book to offer the case for Universal Basic Income in the United States. She recently spoke to the UBI Podcast about her new book.
Lowrey first wrote about basic income in the New York Times for a 2013 article about the Swiss UBI referendum. This was right before the surge of international interest in basic income that persists today.
“Give People Money” gives a straightforward account of basic income for a broad audience, emphasizing the increasingly precarious situation for workers around the world. Lowrey gives a voice to actual recipients of basic income pilots who are quoted in the book as being empowered by the unconditional cash transfers.
In the podcast, Lowrey said what draws her to basic income is how the “universality” of the program unlocks discussion about an array of societal issues.
“It lets you talk about feminism, it lets you talk about the problems with GDP and how we measure welfare, about government paternalism,” she said.
There have been criticisms of Lowrey’s book and others that discuss UBI for the lack of specifics regarding financing.
She said such a demand at this time is a “high-barrier to clear” for financing a full basic income.
“Almost all of our big social programs have started small and gotten bigger,” she said.
Regarding political feasibility, Lowrey said she would be willing to accept “marginal improvements” that may be more feasible in the short-term, such as an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit (which is only provided to those who are working and is targeted for lower income households).
For Lowrey, the evidence for cash transfers is “unbelievably straightforward.”
“We know that giving people cash is an unusually good way to get them out of poverty,” she said. “We know that it doesn’t stop them from working.”
Michael Strobaek, Global Chief Investment Officer (CIO) of Switzerland’s second largest bank Credit Suisse (CS), is interviewed in the December 2017 issue of CS’s “Bulletin“, dedicated to questions around aging. According to Strobaek, it will be crucial to secure the livelihood of the millions of people who will be unemployed through technological development, automation and robotization, and that this has to be done through some sort of unconditional basic income (UBI). Although Strobaek has not provided any specifics about UBI, he is clear that it is required by future unemployment. This future unemployment, however has not been proven as a fact. Despite often cited reports, there is still no proven link between automation and net job loss, since these reports focus on job destruction, not job creation. For an alternative view, that finds that new technology will create new jobs as well as destroying old ones, see Ursula Huws’ article.
Asked who would be supposed to pay for the UBI, Strobaek answers: “The taxpayer. But the question then becomes just what is being taxed? Bill Gates proposed a robot tax to replace the income tax and social security contributions that will be lost through automation. As a society, we still need to find answers to this question.” But according to Strobaek the main challenge relates to future possibilities for human activities when there is very little paid work left. He suggests that “the structures of the world of work will need to be replaced by individual and self-selected structures. Intrinsic motivations will replace extrinsic ones. (…) When people have material security, then they will be able to become involved in the care of older people or of children”. This, however, seems to be in conflict with a deep job-centered logic that he defends throughout the interview, alongside a defence of large families, fearing for population and social security system decline.
Although Strobaek’s interview supports UBI, there is no information indicating whether this is the view of the CS board of directors, or of CS in general. Big banks do not usually publicize particular positions or make their own proposals, except about taxation and regulation within their own framework or on behalf of their clients, since they are doing business with a wide variety of clients, who support all political orientations. There is also no evidence in the interview of an alternative view to Strobaek’s support for UBI. This is consistent with the fact that large financial institutions are generally not criticized in any way in Switzerland, except at times by the political Left.
Guy Standing, co-founder of Bien and a University of London professor, in an interview for the Moon magazine says people with a precarious future are preyed upon by right-wing politicians.
Neo-liberal economic policies, “globalization, automation, and outsourcing” have, according to Standing, created a large and rising number of precariats (estimated as 40-50% of world population), who compete for low wages so much so that they can’t “pay off student loans or consumer debt, qualify for mortgages, save for retirement, or make plans for the future.”
The Moon magazine reports that Standing, in his 2011 book The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class “argued that if governments failed to satisfy the precariat class, their societies would witness increasing violence and the rise of far-right politicians – scenarios that appear to be playing out in many countries around the globe,” including the UK and the US.
Standing, whose latest book Basic Income and How We Can Make It Happen is quoted in Moon magazine saying “Right-wing politicians are playing on the fears and insecurities” of precariats by demonizing other groups, such as migrants. In this book, the precariat sits below the 62 richest people in the world (who own as much as the poorest half of the rest of the world). Other population groups are economically divided into an elite (5%, who serve the richest), the salariats (20%, who have long term employment security), the proficians (10%, who don’t necessarily want long term employment, freelancers in the gig economy), the classic proletariat (10%, who a generation ago inhabited unions), and at the bottom an underclass (5%, who are dying in the streets from social diseases).
A universal basic income would eliminate this class breakdown in favor of an economy that works for all.
Standing believes that basically the income distribution system of the 20th century has broken down. He says that societies, if they are to survive, must reduce “the inequalities and insecurities that are the terror of the precariat”.
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