By Malcolm Torry, author of Money for everyone, new this month
A Citizen’s Income is an unconditional, nonwithdrawable income for every individual as a right of citizenship. It’s unconditional: that is, any two working age adults would receive exactly the same amount, no matter how different the amounts they earn, the assets they own, or the households in which they live. Every person over retirement age would receive the same larger amount. And every child would receive the same as any other child. A Citizen’s Income is nonwithdrawable: that is, if you earn additional income, your Citizen’s Income remains the same. And it’s for every individual: so it’s not reduced if you’re living with someone else, or the person you’re living with earns some additional income.
In all of these respects a Citizen’s Income is the opposite of our current means-tested benefits. Means-tested benefits are conditional: on looking for work, or on being ill, on how much you earn, on who you’re living with, and on how much they earn. Means-tested benefits are withdrawable: so if you earn some additional income then your benefits are reduced – and you will often receive only 15p of any extra £1 you earn, or sometimes only 5p. And means-tested benefits are not always paid to the individual, because for a couple living together only one of them receives the means-tested benefit, whether that’s Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance, so-called Tax Credits, or, in the future, so-called Universal Credit.
Is Citizen’s Income affordable? Details of costs can be found at http://www.citizensincome.org. For example, the FAQs on the website include a report on a feasible revenue-neutral Citizen’s Income scheme that grants a Citizen’s Income of £51.85 weekly to every child and every adult up to the age of 24, £65.45 to adults older than 24 and younger than 65, and £132.60 to everyone over 65 years old (a Citizen’s Pension).
Several recent books have suggested that a Citizen’s Income would be an important part of the answer to the growing inequality and other problems that our society faces today: but the last book to offer anything like an exploration of the subject as a whole, and of the arguments for and against a Citizen’s Income for the UK, was published over ten years ago. Money for everyone fills a significant gap. It argues for a Citizen’s Income on the basis that this is the kind of benefits system that we would invent if we were starting from scratch, and on the basis that a Citizen’s Income would solve many of the problems facing our society and our economy. It would provide a greater incentive to seek additional earned income (because it wouldn’t be withdrawn as earned income rises); it would be efficient and cheap to administer, it could attract almost no fraud, and there would be almost no errors in its payment (unlike our current benefits system); no stigma would attach to receiving it (because everybody would receive it); it would increase social cohesion (unlike our present tax and benefits structure, which divides us into benefits recipients and tax-payers); it would set us free from bureaucratic intrusion (whereas the present benefits system imposes cohabitation rules on us, meaning that civil servants need to know who is living with whom); and the radical simplicity of a Citizen’s Income would future-proof it (unlike our present benefits system, which belongs in the 1930s).
Money for everyone surveys the history of our benefits system, and of attempts at reforming it, and it suggests different ways of implementing a Citizen’s Income. It describes the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend, Iran’s new Citizen’s Income paid to households, and pilot projects in Namibia and India. It constructs a list of criteria for an ideal benefits system, and finds that a Citizen’s Income would satisfy them but that our current largely means-tested system does not. The book asks the important question: Would people still work if they received a Citizen’s Income? – and finds that they would. Further chapters describe a Citizen’s Income as an answer to poverty, inequality, and injustice; ask who should receive a Citizen’s Income; study financial feasibility; discuss political feasibility; and ask which problems a Citizen’s Income would not solve.
Changing society and changing economy need a Citizen’s Income; Money for everyone shows that a Citizen’s Income is both desirable and feasible.