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Time for a universal basic income

Nearly two-thirds of our wealth in Australia is in the hands of the richest 20 per cent (Pixabay / QuinceCreative)

I AM in favour of a universal basic income.

So are 77 per cent of Australians, according to a new Anglicare survey.

Basic income schemes propose citizens and residents receive government payments that are universal, unconditional and adequate enough to live about the poverty line.

A YouGov poll commissioned by the Green Institute last year also found 58 per cent of citizens back a basic income.

Like all those in favour, I believe the idea makes good social, economic and political sense.

As someone stuck on the Jobseeker payment for the past five months, I have seen first-hand how cruel the system is.

Like hundreds of thousands of others around the country looking for work, I struggle to make ends meet on government support.

Life is not much better for casual and underemployed workers, with two out of every five Australians reporting they experienced income insecurity in the past year.

Add to that Australia’s nearly world-leading levels of personal debt and it’s an explosive combination.

My plight and that of others like me is the result not only of our broken social security system but of our inflexible and unresponsive labour market as well.

Though I would be content to change careers, the fact just 12 per cent of job vacancies are for entry-level positions not requiring particular skills and experience means I would likely need to retrain, an option I can ill afford.

Meanwhile, as millions like me are looking to work or to work more, many people already in jobs want to work less.

Their desire to downshift might be motivated by a plan to engage in unpaid care work, demand for which is projected to grow by 23 per cent by 2030.

Men in particular looking to reduce their hours might be spurred on by a wish to help out more at home, given that on average they have 99 free hours a year more than women.

A universal basic income would solve all of these problems and lead to other additional benefits, according to the Anglicare results.

Were they to receive a basic income, 38 per cent of Australians say they would use the money to reduce their debt and save more, while 18 per cent say they would donate to charities.

Twenty-two per cent say with money worries behind them they would spend more time volunteering, and an equal amount say they would engage in unpaid care work for family and friends.

That all sounds attractive to me, and a far better use of my time and talents than the disheartening and futile struggle of meeting an arbitrary number of “mutual obligations” job applications.

Critics of basic income schemes say they’re a disincentive to work, but the Anglicare conclusions tell a different story.

Just 12 per cent say they would reduce their paid work hours, while 20 per cent say they would further their education to better position themselves in the workforce.

As for where the money to fund the new policy might come from, proponents say the cost could be recouped from targeted taxes on wages, rents, investments and business profits.

It’s also worth considering how ripe this country is for a redistribution of its wealth.

Nearly two-thirds of our riches are in the hands of the most well-to-do 20 per cent, according to ACOSS numbers.

Where there’s a will there’s a way, as Jobkeeper and the COVID supplement showed.

Anglicare is in favour of a universal basic income, and so are two-thirds of Australians like me.

The Anglicare and YouGov numbers show the idea is gaining traction.

It’s time for the government to implement such a scheme without delay.

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Cameron Doody

Cameron holds a doctorate in Studies of the Ancient World from the Autonomous and Complutense Universities of Madrid. He has 4.5 years' experience as a reporter in Spain and 3.5 years' experience as a lecturer in Ethics. Writing from Gawler in South Australia, in Kaurna country, he is passionate about advocating for a more humane economy, digital and workers' rights, freedom of expression, sustainability and multiculturalism. In his spare time he enjoys unwinding with friends and family, playing the piano and helping to make the world a better place.

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