http://www.news.com.au/finance/economy/ ... a54852bd3d
Should Australia seriously consider a universal basic income?
FEBRUARY 11, 20166:55AM
TAX reform has taken centre stage in Australian politics at the moment, and in the background a radical idea is quietly gaining momentum.
The notion of a universal basic income (UBI) has been around for a long time but has largely remained a political thought bubble in modern societies.
However as certain countries in western Europe begin exploring the application of such a program, some are calling for the idea to be seriously considered in Australia.
WHAT IS A UNIVERSAL BASIC INCOME?
A universal basic income would provide a guaranteed monthly wage to citizens regardless of employment. For example, every Aussie would receive $800 a month and the system would replace the incumbent welfare state which operates on a costly discriminatory basis.
Like the dole, it’s meant to make sure every person in society can meet basic living standards. But it differs, in that there is no work requirement or means test — meaning you could have a job and pocket the cash on top of your wage, or not work at all and conceivably get by on the payment.
Bob Douglas is the director of Australia21, a non profit group that seeks to address future issues facing the country, and is an “enthusiastic supporter” of the idea.
“It’s not a socialist idea,” he said, but rather a way to overhaul a broken welfare system and replace it with a more efficient version.
“We’re in this huge debate about tax reform, in a sense it can be seen as a part of that,” he told news.com.au.
He is not the only one to promote such a view. In an essay published by Fairfax last month, research fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs, Mikayla Novak, said a pilot program of universal basic income to be rolled out in Finland in 2017 “may have applications in Australia”.
“The Australian welfare state is hugely expensive, being a major contributor to our overall budgetary problems,” she wrote.
Stopping short of throwing her support behind the idea, she said it’s an area worthy of inspection.
According to estimates by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, spending by all levels of government on social security and welfare stood at $156 billion in 2013-14.
As Ms Novak pointed out, “each adult Australian resident could have received about $714 per month in a basic income guarantee during 2013-14, leaving the social security budget no worse off”.
Alluding to the politically conservative tendencies of the public think tank, Mr Douglas said: “When someone from the IPA is saying that, it’s very interesting.”
PROS AND CONS OF THE IDEA
One of the major drawcards for UBI supporters is removing the requirement to police welfare recipients in a paternalistic fashion. For instance, last week it was revealed the Department of Social Services spends time monitoring the social media and eBay accounts of welfare recipients to catch out false Centrelink reporting — the cost of which is estimated to be more than $3 billion.
“The conventional welfare system isn’t doing the job it’s supposed to,” Mr Douglas said. Not only is it inefficient, the policing of recipients can be done in an “offensive way”.
Some proponents of the idea have suggested a staggered system of basic income in which the more you earn in your working life, the less you receive out of the UBI kitty.
But in an Australian sense, at least initially, Mr Douglas believes it’s best if the system is totally universal.
“Its attractiveness is in its simplicity and its universalness,” he said.
While the idea seems to be gaining momentum, critics remain unconvinced about its true feasibility and have raised concerns over inflation, impracticality and the potential dangers of social engineering.
Among them is Declan Gaffney, a former public policy adviser for previous regional and national governments in the UK.
“It promises a division of labour between government and market that is neither feasible nor desirable, in which the government’s role in ensuring economic security is to redistribute income and then stand back,” he wrote for The Guardian.
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Unconditional Basic Income
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