Universally Based Indifference will not help the poor.

Universally Based Indifference will not help the poor.

by Eben Wilson
article from Wednesday 6, May, 2020

NICOLA STURGEON has suggested that a Universal Basic Income may be an idea whose time has come.  Actually, it’s more probable that it’s another bandwagon she’s realised it would be good to jump on. UBI is, after all, an idea that SNP acolytes on the left have been promoting for some time.  

For the left, UBI offers a free lunch that provides the moral certitude that good people offering compassionate support can improve the lot of the less well-off. It rests on the essentially communist notion that any income anyone makes does not belong solely to them, but is accumulated through a wider collective social effort. 

For some liberals, its universality is key; offering the hope that the apparatus of state welfare could be radically simplified to the benefit of the long-suffering taxpayer. 

It’s not a new thought, having been proposed now and then over many decades; it’s also a terrible idea, for a host of reasons. 

The first is that if one really wants to provide a properly supportive income, neither the UK, and certainly not Scotland, could afford it.  You can look at the maths in a number of ways of course, but if you transmuted our present large welfare spending into UBI we would only be able to provide a maximum basic income of about £5000 annually.  

That’s well below the poverty line, so top ups would be needed, re-introducing complexity. Complex and chaotic lives are the hallmark of most welfare recipients, and have to be dealt with, UBI does not resolve that need. 

There are however deeper issues relating to behaviour. It is well know that anything given to someone “free” tends not to be appreciated as being valuable.  Alongside this, the providing of something for “free” devalues both the subjective self-esteem and objectively viewed self-worth of recipients.  No-one likes being on welfare; recipients develop a host of coping strategies and opinions as to why they have found themselves in need of support from others; ask any social worker or community health worker.  Alternatively, watch East Enders and absorb the emotional dilemmas and responses that its script writers extract from the lives of the less well-off. 

With UBI this coping-strategy opinionation would be compounded by the realisation that the well-heeled ladies lunching at New Town eateries were receiving the same wage as the struggling single mum with two squawking bairns asking for a Lorne sausage roll at a drop-in centre in Craigmillar. 

UBI has the horrible potential to buy poor people’s struggles out of sight from the lives of the well-off. That’s morally worse than present welfare dependency.  It actively creates a sub-class.  Fine for a middle-class socialist who does not like to work very hard and loves the idea of a supportive bung to help them; but spiritually disastrous to those with existing chaotic lives. 

Would it help people find jobs? This was the reason that Finland tried a limited UBI trial. Early evidence is that it did very little in this respect.  Certainly no improvement on our existing Universal Credit regime which is tied to job-seeking. 

This is a much deeper reason to reject a UBI and one that, to some extent, unites the world view of the left and the right.  The idea concentrates on income and not wealth.  Of course the poor struggle because they do not have much income to get them through each day; that’s the practical dilemma that they are in; trying to survive – now¡

But their real problem is that they do not have any regular income anticipated for tomorrow. That comfort for the future comes from wealth; either in skills, or savings, or self-discipline and social contact that keeps them in work or out of debt.  In accounting terms, they have poor balance sheets; the snapshot of their weekly profit and loss is essentially irrelevant to their long term prospects. 

This is where UBI does nothing. It supports those in income decline; Finland tells us that it does little to generate wealth improvement.  The left like to point the finger at exploitative employers in the gig economy to explain this, but then again everything is always someone else’s fault with the left, and if only we could create “proper well-paid jobs” – whatever that means – the less well-off could prosper. 

No, we prosper when we balance our outgoings today with our incomings tomorrow. And we manage to do that by making tomorrow’s outgoings possible through the income from our personal wealth. For the less capable or talented, that wealth means constancy in work and consistency in productivity.  UBI, as stated above, pushes a message as above that the less productive are less useful, generating non-consistent behaviour patterns that employers spot quickly and so push them aside as too costly to offer work to.  

The Scottish Government should focus its efforts on improving education and hence wage rates through new found skills, allowing individuals to strengthen their balance sheets.  Adopting a leftist fetish with mere income reduces them to coercive policers of over-bearing redistribution; the best way to make everyone poorer.  Their tax policies and spending deficits are making a good enough fist of this already. 

I find it difficult to believe that the First Minister is truly a believer in UBI; she’s a striver herself who has built her future by exploiting her personal skills.  As a son of Kilwinning I know that she, as a daughter of Dreghorn only seven miles way, will know how many in North Ayrshire struggle to pull themselves into a position of wealth and skills, even with paltry savings, that at least lets them feel comfortable that they can control their futures with some comfort.  UBI is a terrible idea that cannot support this process.  

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