PODCAST: The Basic Income Podcast features Reverend Liz Theoharis, on Building a Movement Centered on Poor People

PODCAST: The Basic Income Podcast features Reverend Liz Theoharis, on Building a Movement Centered on Poor People

Reverend Liz Theoharis.

 

This twenty-minute podcast features Reverend Liz Theoharis, a long-time advocate and activist for poverty reduction and elimination. She had led a campaign called the “Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival”, a direct revival of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Poor People’s Campaign” in the 1960´s. In the podcast, she argues that poverty is not only a matter of lack of resources (to live), but a more encompassing issue which involves climate change, workers’ rights, housing, and economic empowerment. To her, poor people are at the center of society’s driving force, which means that something like basic income would change the name of the game in economic and societal terms. Other issues, like universal healthcare, quality education and housing are also discussed, as parallel policies to which basic income would be a complement, but not a replacement.

 

Leah Hamilton: “”Human again”: The (unrealized) promise of basic income in Ontario

Leah Hamilton: “”Human again”: The (unrealized) promise of basic income in Ontario

Leah Hamilton (left) and James P. Mulvale (right)

 

Leah Hamilton and James P. Mulvale have researched into the implications of the truncated basic income pilot in Ontario, Canada. From a set of controlled, semi-structured interviews, five participants agreed to subject to the procedure. These participants had experienced both conditional welfare programs such as the Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program, and were beneficiaries of the Ontario basic income pilot until it was terminated by Doug Ford’s cabinet.

 

The conclusions show that the basic income pilot had effects that contrasted with those experienced by the participants in the traditional social security programs. So, while in the latter, participants felt trapped in “a cycle of precarity and dependence”, the former made them feel “human again”, since “they had always desired to be members of the workforce and gain financial independence”. The study’s conclusions also match other research efforts comparing traditional welfare with basic income type of experiments, which reinforces those same conclusions. It also refers the need to consider potential hidden savings in health costs, and additional economic activity brought by basic income policies. Those cost savings and potentially larger tax collection must then be a part of any serious effort to finance basic income, particularly in high-income countries.

 

The following abstract accompanies the article:

Neoliberal social assistance programs are broadly seen as inadequate and intrusive. This phenomenological analysis compares social assistance in Ontario, Canada, and a recent pilot project to test basic income as an alternative method of enabling economic security and social participation via qualitative interviews with pilot recipients who had previously received traditional assistance. Results indicate a desire to be financially independent, but that the conditionality of traditional programs had negative repercussions including work disincentives and deleterious bureaucratic hurdles. Respondents reported that basic income has improved their nutrition, health, housing stability, and social connections; and better facilitated long-term financial planning.

 

More information at:

Leah Hamilton & James P. Mulvale (2019) “Human Again”: The (Unrealized) Promise of Basic Income in Ontario, Journal of Poverty

Leah Hamilton, “Why Welfare Doesn’t Work: And What We Should Do Instead”, Basic Income News, June 29th 20128

UK: The current welfare state is reaching its limits, as evidence on inequality and poverty in the UK is surfaced

UK: The current welfare state is reaching its limits, as evidence on inequality and poverty in the UK is surfaced

Philip Alston. Picture credit to: BBC News

Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, was in the UK last November 2018, presenting his findings on this press conference. It seems that the UK, the 5th world economy in terms of GDP, drags on the 55th position as far as inequality is concerned, in a list of 160 countries (Gini coefficient measurements from the year 2000 onward, mostly). He refers that, although many think tanks, civic organizations and even parliamentary groups speak of poverty as a crucial challenge in the UK, government ministers consider that “things are going well”, in an obvious attitude of denial.

Alton’s visit to the UK has spurred the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee to conduct an inquiry on UK’s welfare system, along with rising evidence of debt, hunger and homelessness across the country. In fact, a recent (June 2018), deep study on British welfare had already demonstrated that the attribution of conditional benefits has more drawbacks than positive outcomes, which turns the present system counterproductive. So, it seems that poverty, social stigma and arbitrary sanctions are not only the product of some filmmaker’s imagination (e.g.: I, Daniel Blake), but real, verifiable facts.

Among the cited evidence can be found the contribution of the Citizen’s Income Trust (CIT). Given the grim scenario of UK’s poorest or most financially insecure social layers – wages below the poverty line, high unemployment, high insecurity within the job market, increasing conditional welfare – the CIT, headed by Malcolm Torry, recommends that UK’s welfare system should be covered with a new level of unconditional income security. Therefore, it has recommended to the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee the adoption of basic income, in the following terms:

Research at the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex has shown that such a new layer of unconditional incomes would be entirely feasible. By reducing to zero the Income Tax Personal Allowance and the National Insurance Contributions Primary Earnings Threshold, levelling out National Insurance Contributions across the earnings range, and raising Income Tax rates by just three percentage points, it would be possible to pay an unconditional income of £63 per week to every working age adult, with different amounts for different age groups. No additional public expenditure would be required; poverty and inequality would be substantially reduced; almost no losses would be imposed on low income households at the point of implementation, and only manageable losses on any household; a significant number of households would be taken off means-tested benefits; and a much larger number would be brought within striking distance of coming off them. For every household that came off means-tested benefits, employment incentives would rise substantially. Most importantly: every household in the country would experience a substantial increase in its financial security.

It is worth noting that the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee had already run a formal Oral Evidence Hearing about basic income, on January 12th 2017. At this session were presenting evidence and informed opinions for basic income Louise Haagh (University of York and Basic Income Earth Network), Annie Miller (Citizen’s Income Trust) and Becca Kirkpatrick (UNISON West Midlands Community Branch). On the official summary of that formal hearing, the Committee judged the possibility of introducing a basic income type of policy in the UK as risking “being a distraction from workable welfare reform”, urging “the incoming government not to spend any energy on it”.

Overall, social degradation is happening in the UK, no matter how much governmental officials try to deny it. And that is in the midst of great transformations in the British welfare system, which may raise concerns about what “workable welfare reforms” the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee had in mind in early 2017. Accepting evidence from the CIT, naturally supporting a thought-through basic income scheme for the UK, it remains unclear whether the appeal for the government to avoid basic income is to be given any credence.

More information at:

Hannah Trippier, “United Kingdom: Study suggests that welfare conditionality does more harm than good”, Basic Income News, July 31st 2018

Genevieve Shanahan, “UK: Parliament releases summary of Oral Evidence Hearing on UBI”, Basic Income News, May 9th 2017

André Coelho, “VIDEO: UK’s Work and Pensions Committee oral evidence on basic income (summary of content)”, Basic Income News, February 18th 2017

Michael Buchanan, “Poverty causing ‘misery’ in the UK, and ministers are in denial, says UN official”, BBC News, November 16th 2018

United States: Democrats add basic income to a climate change addressing plan

United States: Democrats add basic income to a climate change addressing plan

It started on Tuesday, 13th of November 2018, with a 200 large committee of environmental activists (Sunrise Movement) crowding Nancy Pelosi’s office premises at the Capitol Building. The activists called upon Pelosi, the Democrats House speaker, to push for a real, ambitious and wide-reaching plan to curb climate change. That alone would probably amount to little as far as media coverage was concerned. However, the event was mediatized by recently elected Democrat MP and young political leader Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who stepped in and weighted her support, attracting lots of media attention.

What first seemed to be the aftermath of yet another Democrat internal dispute over climate change issues, turned out to be a positive reinforcement between Democratic leaders to start pushing for a deep strategy which can eventually set real policy to solve the climate crisis. Recent Pelosi efforts to revive energy independence and global warming related issues in the Househad turned out inconsequential, which only made the new Resolution presented by Alexandria stand out even more.

This Resolution aims to have a so called “Plan for a Green New Deal” ready by no later than January 1st 2019, and a final draft legislation by April 1st 2019 (with a proviso that it should not be extended, under any circumstance, further than March 1st 2020). This plan, supported by both the Sunrise Movement activist group and the Justice Democrats (a pioneering partnership), ambitiously aims to completely decarbonize the US economy, ramp up renewables to 100% and eliminate poverty in all United States within a 10 year timespan.

The ending poverty part of the plan starts with the provision of a job guarantee, coupled with training and education opportunities for all Americans, to assist in the transition to abetter (for most people), decarbonized economy. The concept of a job guarantee had already been given attention by Democrat “heavy-weights” like former President Obama and his Vice Joe Biden, putting an emphasis on its (alleged) non-monetary advantages (at least in the United States context) – e.g.: dignity, sense of purpose, recognition. However, basic income has appealed to Democrats in the last few years (adding Bernie Sanders and even Hillary Clinton into the pot), and so it appears under number four of Alexandria’s plan, after the taking care of disadvantaged communities affected by climate change, and reducing deep inequalities – racial, regional, gender-based, income and access to infrastructure – within the territory. However, and according to basic income activists such as Guy Standing, Scott Santens and Annie Miller, basic income could have an important role precisely in addressing these last two issues.

The Resolution clearly states that environmental issues cannot be separated from social/economic problems, hence the focus on both. Such deep connection has already been considered and analysed by several thinkers of our time, such as Phillipe van Parijs, André Gorz and Charles Eisenstein. Therefore, the moment in time, the nature of the document and its content seems to be aligned with the demands of today’s crisis, particularly in the United States. Finally, on the financial side of the Resolution, the idea is to use Federal Reserve funds, the foundation of a new public bank and/or theuse of public venture funds to cover for the Plan’s expenses, hence focusing on public finances and asset management. That certainly appeals more to a Commons-oriented solution to environmental and social issues, rather than a private-donor type of approach such as a few coming from Silicon Valley recently.

 

More information at:

David Roberts, “AlexandriaOcasio-Cortez is already pressuring Nancy Pelosi on climate change”, Vox, November 15th 2018

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez websiteGreen New Deal

KarlWiderquist, “Obamaspeaks favorably about UBI but stops short of endorsing it (for the secondtime)”, Basic Income News, July 18th 2018

AndréCoelho, “Joe Biden believes thatjobs are the future, rather than basic income”, Basic Income News, September 23rd 2018

Phillipe Van Parijs, “PoliticalEcology: From Autonomous Sphere to Basic Income”, Basic Income Studies, December 2009

Daniele Fabbri, “Douglas Rushkoff Warns That Universal Basic IncomeIs Just Silicon Valley’s Latest Scam”, Basic Income News, November 25th 2018

RUSSIA: Basic Income Conference organized in Russia

RUSSIA: Basic Income Conference organized in Russia

Alexander Solovyev, Dimitriy Sarayev, Sergey Vladimirovich Khramov and Irina Soloveva

 

This Basic Income Conference moto was “Let’s win poverty in Russia together!”, and it took place in Moscow on the 26th of June 2018. It was organized by the combined efforts of the activist organization Basic Income Russia Tomorrow and the Moscow Communists (members of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation), which also invited leaders from the Trade Unions of Russia (Khramov Sergey Vladimirovich, General Labor Inspector) and the Russian Land Charity Fund (Baldanova Zinaida, Chairman of the Board of Trustees). The Conference main purpose was to debate around issues related with poverty, and how to solve it within the Russian context, while having present the best international examples on the subject.

 

The two organizing groups took the opportunity of this Conference to announce they would join forces and dedicate more time and effort, together, to reduce poverty in their country. Participants also seized the moment to criticize the government on its decision to raise the retirement age. This, according to them, will degrade the standard of living of all, increase the total number of poor people and spread social discontent across the whole country. A particular statement by the youth branch of the Basic Income Russia Tomorrow was made, as the organization is now determined to make reducing child poverty a priority for its activities. Finally, participants generally called out to all citizens, weather individually or in public or private organizations, to be alert and participate in a society-wide discussion about poverty and how it can be reduced in the 21st century, helping to build a fairer Russian society for the years to come.

 

The Conference was divided into four main themes: Poverty, Pensioners, Child Poverty and Labor Relations Reform.

 

Poverty, a theme delivered by Alexander Solovyev (council chairman of Basic Income Russia Tomorrow), was portrayed as destroyer of citizens and the State, degrading health, security, confidence, initiative and promoting the growth of crime. According to Solovyev, Russia has no right to have poor citizens, being so rich in natural resources. Therefore, he argued for the implementation of a US$ 500 per month individual and universal basic income, financed by the State’s revenue with natural resources, which should be shared with every citizen in the country.

 

Dimitriy Sarayev spoke about pensioners, who are in Russia, according to him, socially unprotected citizens. This situation is only made worse by the unilateral decision by the Russian government to raise the retirement age, which is thought to be justified by a need of this government to cut spending. Sarayev says this will also raise unemployment, as people unable to retire will stay on the jobs longer. According to him, raising the retirement age, if any, must be accompanied with proper healthcare and higher pensions, which is the exact opposite of what the government is doing.

 

As for child poverty, Irina Soloveva expressed her extreme concern about the high level of child poverty in Russia. She defends basic income as a necessity for children, first and foremost. Irina also refers the US$ 500 per month per person basic income allocation, as “a reliable foundation for their future life, [to] give children freedom and financial security, reduce the level of crime and corruption in the country, [which] will enable the country to develop”.

 

This Conference, and its focus on basic income as the single most important strategy to reduce poverty in the country, comes at a time when, for the first time in Russia, “public and political organizations began to unite to address the problem of poverty in Russia as a whole, including child poverty”. That is particularly important when in public discussions around poverty, in Russia, the term “child poverty” is completely omitted by state officials and the press.