February 6, 2015


Basic income - transforming benefits in the era of the precariat (STUART WEIR 3 February 2015, Open Democracy)

Citizen's or Basic Income is a simple idea. Everyone receives a modest benefit that is paid in cash individually to men and women, and to women for their children, entirely without conditions. It is an answer to the reality of insecure employment. It works for example in modified form in Brazil and the idea is gaining ground across Europe where Switzerland will put it to the people in a referendum.

 Last year I saw the results of the pilot scheme in two of the villages where it was introduced.  The scheme was truly emancipatory for people individually and communally, and especially for women. In India, as in most welfare systems around the world, people are given benefits only if they meet certain conditions. The roots of this obligation spring from the universal fear that somehow the lazy and feckless poor will sign on without any intention of working or  maintaining themselves. Everywhere legislators add all manner of ideological and moral imperatives and seek to impose this or that piece of social engineering.

In India, the traditional regime of conditionality demeans the recipients, makes impossible demands on them, cheats them and empowers officials and intermediaries to cheat them. The introduction of modest unconditional cash benefits freed the people of these villages, gave them dignity and more control over their lives and brought about a rise in productivity, incomes and work.

Far from wasting the cash grants, as officialdom predicted, villagers invested them in renewing their houses and building latrines; bulk buying of foodstuffs; paying school fees and sending their children to school in uniform;  investing in seeds and pesticides, goats and oxen, and at least one Jersey cow - which led to a significant shift from paid labour to self-cultivation; buying sewing machines for "own account" businesses making blouses, petticoats; treating unaddressed illnesses, such as TB and blindness, and remedying injuries.  Often they pooled the extra cash, for example, to buy a communal television set, to repair the spire of their temple, to create a credit union. "This is our story," said one woman who had been sceptical. "We have learned that we can always trust the poor". 

Posted by at February 6, 2015 5:15 PM

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