Category Archives: Social Action

Free Money = Freedom: Why the Labour Party must support the Universal Basic Income.

I’ve been thinking about Universal Basic Income (UBI) a lot recently…in a good way. What sort of society could we become if each adult citizen was given say £1000 a month each, from the state? There would be no strings attached; that £1000 per month would be a right for each man or woman over the age of 18. A study released by the University of Bath in September suggested that 49% of 18-79 year olds would support a policy of this nature and certainly, in principle at least, UBI tackles poverty in a brave, bold way. It is ‘Tom-Paine-Thinking’ for the Twenty-First Century.

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I think to my friends. Most of whom are in their 30s and 40s and what you could politely describe as being stagnantly mid-career. Would being in receipt of UBI change what we were doing with our lives? Would my teacher friends still teach? Would my friends in the NHS still want to work for our struggling health service? Would my banker friends still steal money from the poor to line the pockets of The Man (obviously I’m joking; I don’t have any banker friends – ahem, Sorry Dave). For most they probably wouldn’t change the job, they would change the hours. For some, it would give them the confidence to try a start-up idea, or launch a ‘passion project’ long since shelved for fear of leaving their families without, if and when it failed. UBI could give Britain the chance to be more creative, most aspirational and much, much braver.

It could also help ease Britain’s growing mental health crisis. We are overworked; as Owen Jones detailed in The Guardian yesterday in his calls for a four-day week, nearly half of all people suffering from stress, depression or anxiety, attribute it to workload. UBI could allow all workers the choice to spend more time with their families. It could help liberate the workers; I make no apology if I come over full on Marx here, but UBI is going to be a key part of liberating workers from the oppression of labour. Indeed, economic and industrial development has long been seen as a precondition for Socialism and with Artificial Intelligence potentially rendering many jobs we know today obsolete, it may well be that the industrial developments of the Twenty-First Century actually bring the voices calling for UBI away from the traditional ‘hard’ left and into the centre.

Combined with Labour’s proposed National Education Service, which will offer free education at any point in life, adults could re-enter education, re-train, re-fresh, and ultimately become a more academic, skilled workforce; they would use UBI to facilitate and free-up the hours for part-time study. A more skilled workforce, eventually gives back to the state in increased productivity. Could the policy then pay for itself?

Well there has to be another form of funding UBI, at least initially. Most here on the left, would raise taxes; but a Canadian poll in 2016 showed that support for UBI fell dramatically when such rises in taxation were mentioned. Neo-liberals would fund UBI another way: essentially by stripping away most welfare. It may well be that welfare can have a huge shake-up if UBI were introduced, but there will always be people for whom circumstance requires financial support from the state.

So, it certainly won’t all be plain sailing: some experts warn that UBI could, within a generation, simply reinforce women’s traditional role by encouraging them to return to providing care and household services. It could spell the end of state maternity pay and limit further entitlements to child benefit. In the USA, supporters of UBI see it as allowing women to spend more time at home with new-born babies before returning to work; of course, the USA does not have a Welfare State like ours in the UK. The introduction of UBI would raise other serious questions relating to benefits: Would there be any more need for a state pension? Would there be a sort of ‘UBI-plus’ for a generation who had paid in substantial National Insurance contributions before the transition of arrangements? What about those entitled to Personal Independence Payments (PiP) or many of the benefits being brought under the umbrella of Universal Credit? Could we end up with UBIPIPUC? Would you pay more to people who live in areas with higher rents and associated living costs? Would your UBI amount depend on which postcode you were born into, or where you lived?

So, lots of questions. One thing I am sure of though: it’s time for the discussion. I want a future Labour government to put UBI on the table. In the meantime, let’s get it to Parliament for a full Chamber debate. There’s a parliament.uk petition online. I’ve signed today.

Old Age Care at £31k a year! No thanks, I’m off to Eton…

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With average care home fees this week reported to now be £30,917 per year, the UK is facing a crisis. We have an aging population and a society that condones the charging of fees for elderly care which are akin to those charged for a full boarding place at a top public school. The state education system, open and available to all, strives for success; in some towns and even small cities, not a single school in rated less than Good by OFSTED. Yet for our parents and grandparents, elderly friends and relatives, the choice is often terrifyingly poor state care or £31k a year. This is like being asked to choose being a vat of boiling oil or old-fashioned Roman crushing-by-elephant. No-one is ambitious in care-giving provision and the average pensioner annual income at £14,456 falls well short of what is needed. Even if I did dispose of my worldly assets to spend £31k a year, it would not guarantee me quality. Thus, my choice is clear: I am going to have to go to Eton instead.

Eton

At Eton College (at £36k) I would be assured of many things that my 31k investment per anuum in an average UK home could not guarantee me: I could have a nice room, plenty of friends, 3 cooked meals a day. There would be a vast program of academic and non-academic pursuits to keep my body and mind sharp. Those who looked after me would be at the top of their field (educated to an average of MA level and paid an average of £34,500 a year each, with free accommodation and food) and always live on site; they would liaise regularly with my relatives about progress and an on-site medical facility with a qualified doctor and nurses would administer my medication and check-ups. I could take up an instrument, learn a new language and have my evenings taken up viewing the concerts and theatrical performances of my peers. My relatives could visit and picnic with me on our own private island (really, it’s called Queen Eyot and is quite charming). Any special diet I might have would be catered for and I could be assured that Matron would rouse me in the mornings if I was having trouble getting up.

EtonLibrary
The way we are for our elderly in Great Britain desperately needs overhauling. Care England, who represented care homes have this week accused the government of having no strategy for old age care. Martin Green, the chief executive of Care England said: ‘I don’t know how in the age of the Equality Act you have older people having to pay for a service that younger people get for free.’What young people really get for free is ambition: a society and a government that care about achieving results. It is time the UK government were honest. They need to say exactly how much good social care costs, and then universal taxes must be raised – Nordic style – to cover it. We should have the same ambition in the care for our elderly as we do for our children. If we don’t, then we are all the worst side of that Conservative poster-boy Adam Smith (who ironically died at 63 before true old age could knaw at his conviction): writing off those who cannot contribute fiscally as being dead-weight in the economic furtherment of our country and thus unworthy of our love. We might save some pounds, but we lose our heart.

And how do I know that Eton is so much a better option you might ask? Well, my socialist friends: I used to teach there (but that’s a post for another day).

PETITION: INCREASE GOVERNMENT AID TO YEMEN…THE FAMINE THE UK HELPED TO CAUSE

Real politics is about engendering change. So, whilst the Labour ‘faces’ tear the party apart, we’ll get on with the important things…

A PETITION TO: INCREASE UK GOVERNMENT AID TO EASE THE SUFFERING OF THOSE HIT BY FAMINE IN YEMEN

Millions of people in Yemen are starving to death. Latest figures from the UN suggest that nearly half of Yemeni provinces are in desperate need of further aid provision to avert a humanitarian disaster. A million and a half children are malnourished and in danger of starvation.

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Numerous factors have brought the famine about; from the recent freezing of importer’s banks and access to capital, to the fact that (despite Saudi Arabian denial of the matter) dockyards and food-storage facilities have been systematically targeted by factions in the ongoing civil war. With 90% of food in the Yemen coming from imports, many families are living off solely flour bags and the weakest, youngest and oldest are dying in their hundreds.

UK Weapons, including cluster bombs banned by the UN’s Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons in the early 1980s, have been found on the ground in Yemen. The UK is in part responsible for the death and suffering of hundreds of thousands. The UK Government’s current position is immoral; whilst we have the capacity to raise aid to Yemen’s starving civilians through international aid agencies, we must do so.

Last year the UK Government contributed £87million of bilateral aid to Yemen. That is £2.90 per year, per UK taxpayer. In contrast, in the 3-month period July-September 2015, the UK exported £1billion worth of bombs, rockets and missiles to Saudi Arabia; exports of these goods must be signed off by British ministers. Claims from the International Development Select Committee and in the The Guardian have repeatedly suggested that supplying these arms leads to devastation which is then only partially cleaned up with British aid money. Stephen Twigg, Labour MP and chair of the select committee, describes the government’s actions as paradoxical. In 2015, BAE systems – the largest British exporter of weaponry – made a 1.5billion profit;  over 20 times the amount of aid sent to the Yemen. The director of BAE, Sir Roger Carr, continues to assert that selling weapons ‘encourages peace’. 

This petition demands one simple thing: to raise the amount of aid we are sending to ease the suffering of the starving in Yemen. We also call on the UK Government to review the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia and the training that the UK provides to Saudi troops who then go on to illegally target civilian provisions and food-sources in Yemen.

Please sign this petition and raise awareness where you can.