Written By: - Date published: 9:48 am, September 19th, 2017 - 97 comments
Categories: benefits, class war, disability, Economy, election 2017, TOPS, welfare - Tags: #cripthevote, gareth morgan, the big kahuna, ubi, YUBI
TOP released its Youth to Adult Unconditional Basic Income policy a while back. It aims to give every 18 – 23 yr old $200/wk and for that income to be unconditional. You don’t have to apply, and you can spend it on what you want, no questions asked. You won’t be taxed on that income nor penalised via WINZ abatements. Sounds good, right? What progressive wouldn’t want to support young people with such an excellent start.
That $10,000/yr is every young adult’s on top of whatever other income they have. Unless they are a beneficiary (or a student1).
Young people in waged work would get $200/wk on top of their existing income. Beneficiaries would get little to no extra because the YUBI replaces their existing income. This is part of how TOP want to pay for the overall YUBI, by not giving extra assistance to some of the most in need NZers, those on very low incomes that can’t work.
It looks something like this (keeping it simple by looking at a 22 yr old with no children)
|Income source||Income p/wk (in hand)||Income p/a (in hand)||With YUBI p/wk (in hand)||With YUBI p/a (in hand)|
|Jobseeker/dole (includes previous Sickness Benefit)||$177||$9,204||$200||$10,000|
|Secondary School teacher salary||$778||$40,500||$978||$50,500|
If that 22 yr old has a disability or illness that prevents them from supplementing their income via waged work, TOP is saying they have to stick with their life of poverty. We already know that for many people that’s not enough to live on. Morgan understands the value of giving young people a good start into adulthood, so why doesn’t this apply to some of the most vulnerable people in NZ?
There is this idea that a UBI is meant to replace welfare, therefore a YUBI should replace base benefit payments. But that’s an abstract approach to UBIs that places theories about ‘how things should work’ above actual people. Unfortunately there is a meme developing in the NZ UBI debate that welfare is bad and a UBI should kill it off once and for all. But we will still need welfare, there is no way around that because people have differing income needs. UBI was never meant to solve that issue on its own, but should be developed alongside fixing welfare.
What is a UBI for and how should it be designed? I’m arguing that it should primarily be part of a social security policy, rather than predominantly an economic tool, and it should be inherently inclusive. It should put the most vulnerable people at the centre of the design, including children, the elderly, and ill or disabled people, and not treat them as an after thought.
I grew up in a tramping family where it was standard practice to put the slowest person in the middle of the group not at the back. This is an acknowledgement that we don’t want to leave anyone behind because we care about everyone in the group and the kind of experience they are going to have. Also implicit is that the group is only going to go as fast as its slowest member so the wellbeing of everyone is dependent on everyone’s wellbeing. In a politically compassionate world ‘tramping’ with elderly, children, and disabled people in this way is normal. Just as important as inclusivity, it engenders the reality that people of varying abilities bring important things to the world, because they have different perspectives, skills and life experiences. In a neoliberal world, why would you want to take slow people with you? Put them over there and deal with them separately and later.
The core principle for TOP seems to assert normal people as wage earners first and foremost, where a UBI is an economic tool in an age of employment instability, one that needs to make sure the workforce functions efficiently. Sure, TOP no doubt care about workers to an extent for their own sake, but if this was driven by compassion, why exclude more vulnerable people?
UBI models seek to improve the non-waged lives of some e.g. some kinds of able-bodied voluntary work would be more viable and valued, but that still doesn’t explain why TOP’s YUBI doesn’t take into account people who have differing support needs, and they sure as hell don’t value the contributions that the non-waged disabled might want to make.
Social theories of disability say that society creates disability. Someone in a wheelchair is an ordinary part of society until they need to access a building that someone else designed to be accessible for people that can walk up stairs. Society created that inaccessibility, not the person in the wheelchair, because society holds that infrastructure should be designed around certain kinds of physicality and not others. We’re getting better at that but a UBI model that starts with the premise that someone can work to earn extra income is a building that automatically and actively excludes others and creates disability.
This gnarly issue of UBI models with sub-liveable rates and how people who can’t work will live of even survive is not going to go away. TOP has paid lip service to this in its policy development and Morgan’s early work blatantly acknowledged that some of the most vulnerable people would be worse off. I’ve seen people argue that it’s a work in progress, that these issues will get sorted out in time (and this appears to be TOP’s rationale), but this initial policy actively builds in inequity right from the start.
They might want to add on some wheelchair ramps later, but it’s still a bad way to design if you want to get it right by the people most affected. It says that people with disabilities are not going to be attended to alongside others, and we might have a think about them later when we get round to it. From a disability point of view that’s discriminatory. Safety nets should be for all people and the way to best ensure that is to design them for the needs of people across the board, not start with economic ideology no matter the superficially liberal positioning.2
There’s a big conversation to be had after the election about what to do about poverty and welfare, and that should include looking at a UBI and whether and how it might work in NZ. But TOP so far are designing bad policy and this needs to be made explicit before people vote.
1 Youth in receipt of Student Allowance also don’t get the extra $10,000/yr. There are other critiques of TOP’s general approach to UBI but space in the post was limited.
2 Morgan’s campaigning in the past week has made it very clear that he is extremely antagonistic to progressive ideas from the Left, so this disabled social justice warrior is just closing the loop here. Morgan’s hatred of the Left goes hand in hand with the big stomping holes in his policies for people who he clearly has no understanding of nor willingness to include in his grand plan.