What’s next? Money for nothing?

I hope that when we come out the other side of this current crisis, there are some lasting impacts on our politics and our system of democracy. As Liberal Democrats, we will be going through a process of transformation. The major issue that has dominated our message for the last three years has been resolved, at least for the moment. We will elect a new leader, who will have to oversee our re-engagement with the voters if we are to recover our support in the polls.

One key discussion needs to be around what we stand for, and what our policy objectives are. Labour has a new leader and presumably a new direction. We will need new policies that differentiate us from the other main parties.

An area which could be developed further is the Lib Dem position on community and the individual. Before COVID-19 came along, we used to talk about an epidemic of loneliness. People trapped alone by poverty or unaffordable housing, and a decline in social inclusion. We should develop our policies further, and take a radical stance on community. Let’s do what Lib Dems are good at, looking after people and communities.

Let’s look again at Universal Basic Income. In the current crisis, this would have enabled so many people to cope from day one of the lockdowns. There would no longer be a five-week wait to obtain income if you lost your job. Those working as a freelance or self-employed would already have a basic level of income to support them when they were no longer able to work or operate their business. Think of the savings that the government would make in administration costs if everyone had the same allowance paid to them: no separate benefit payments or universal credit. Think of the resources that would be freed up to deal with other important areas of the local and national government.

At the same time, new housing developments could be required to support community involvement and inclusion, as well as providing homes that would be affordable at all levels of income. Each community or area of housing could be supported to develop community facilities through grants and match funding. These new community assets would help young and old alike to have somewhere to meet and organise events and community activity.

Universal Basic Income is not a new idea. Suggested hundreds of years ago by Thomas More, it has been tried in several forms in different places. Tax paid by individuals and organisations would have to increase to pay for the allowance, but this could be part of a new model of engagement with society. As we move forward into a future where more and more manufacturing is automated, where common services provided by people are automated, and where more people are employed in a “gig” economy, we cannot allow it to be only the market that decides how much income people have to live on.
When self-isolation ends, we need to combat social isolation and financial insecurity.

* Tom Snowdon who is a Lib Dem member, is a Councillor on Chesterfield Borough Council

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7 Comments

  • Tracy hodgkin 8th Apr '20 - 4:44pm

    I think working towards differentiation for the sake of it is not the way to go. If you support policies that labour support then recognise that our day may have gone given labour now stands for something very different and the system only works properly with 2 parties – so if you don’t want tories…….

  • Peter Martin 8th Apr '20 - 6:05pm

    Yes to a BI but no to a UBI. There’s no need to give extra income to those who manage to obtain an income outside the system. Such as the domestic partners of the very wealthy and drug dealers!

    Instead, how about committing to a policy of full employment with a guaranteed minimum wage?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Job_guarantee

  • Peter Martin 8th Apr '20 - 6:20pm

    PS I may be against “money for nothing” but I’m not sure about “chicks for free”! 🙂

    Google {Dire Straights} if you think I’m being sexist!

  • Tom Snowdon,

    You are advocating a UBI which replaces all benefits. You don’t state what level you wish to pay it at. It has to be higher than the current benefit levels for it to assist those currently on benefits (and most people don’t set the level this high). To eradicate poverty as implied in the preamble of our constitution any UBI has to be set at the poverty line.

    When considering what policies we should be advocating once the Coronavirus crisis is over we need to include a new Beveridge social contract which ends poverty, ensures everyone who wants a home of their own has one, ensures that everyone who wants a job has one, ensures that everyone receives the health care they need quickly, and ensures everyone has free education and training so they can fulfil their full potential.

  • Peter Martin 9th Apr '20 - 11:17am

    @ JoeB,

    An interesting study of street crime! it’s likely going to be much the same story in the UK as the USA. Many of these exploited ‘foot soldiers’ will have minor criminal records which effectively disqualifies them from legitimate employment. I would say that all young people should be offered an opportunity to do something worthwhile. Only a Job Guarantee at a guaranteed minimum income can do that and give them another chance.

    It’s not going to be unconditional though. They will have to turn up in the morning and do their jobs before they get paid. If they are caught committing other crimes they will of course have to face the consequences.

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