Church Action on Poverty supporter Malcolm Torry introduces an idea for tackling poverty which has begun to move from the fringes into the mainstream.
A Citizen’s Basic Income – often called a Basic Income, or a Citizen’s Income – is an unconditional income paid automatically to every individual. It’s money for everyone.
Until quite recently the idea was on the far fringes of political debate, and those of us in the Citizen’s Income Trust who had been working on the idea for 30 years had little reason to think that would change. It has changed. Pilot projects have taken place in Namibia and India, and are now being planned in Finland and Utrecht. In the UK, thinktanks the Royal Society of Arts, Compass, and the Adam Smith Institute, have published positive reports. The idea has been a Green Party policy for some time, and now the SNP has voted for it. Elements of the Labour Party are increasingly interested, and trades unions are now coming on board. Press and other media interest has changed from being non-existent or dismissive to being substantial and constructive.
The debate is now changing in character as well as in intensity. From being mainly about whether it’s a good idea to give everyone some money unconditionally, it’s now increasingly about whether it’s possible to do so. My first two books on Citizen’s Basic Income, Money for Everyone and 101 Reasons for a Citizen’s Income, fitted into the earlier part of the debate. My new book, The Feasibility of Citizen’s Income, is designed to facilitate the current stage. A third stage is now emerging: how would we implement a Citizen’s Basic Income? In November the Institute of Chartered Accountants is to hold a consultation on this question.
But apart from occasional events – for instance, a clergy study day in the Diocese of Southwark, and a meeting convened by the Northumbrian Workplace Chaplaincy – I am not aware of much specifically Christian contribution to this debate. It is of course quite right that the churches should be concentrating on running food banks to ameliorate the damage being done by our current unreliable and stigma-inducing benefits system: but we shouldn’t be having to do that, and a different benefits system could mean that we wouldn’t be doing it. What we need is a benefits system that provides genuine ‘social security’ in today’s society, economy, and employment market, and not a system created 70 years ago for a very different era.
To facilitate the Christian debate that now needs to happen, I have written a fourth book: Citizen’s Basic Income: A Christian social policy, to be published at the end of September. The book’s argument is that there are multiple connections between a Citizen’s Basic Income and the Christian Faith, as the chapter titles suggest:
- Citizen’s Basic Income would celebrate God-given abundance
- – would be an act of grace
- – would recognise our individuality
- – would recognise God’s equal treatment of us
- – would provide for the poor
- – would not judge
- – would constantly forgive
- – would ensure that workers would be paid for their work
- – would be the basis of a covenant
- – would inspire us to be co-creators
- – would understand both our original righteousness and our original corruption
- – would recognise our mutual dependency
- – would facilitate a more just society
- – would promote liberty
- – would both relativise and enhance the family
- – would facilitate the duty to serve
- – would be welcoming and hospitable
Chapter 18 shows how a Citizen’s Basic Income could be paid for without spending any extra public money by rearranging our current tax and benefits system; chapter 19 is titled ‘Citizen’s Basic Income would be an act of love’; and the concluding chapter, unsurprisingly, suggests that Citizen’s Basic Income is a Christian social policy. Appendices contain illustrative Citizen’s Basic Income schemes, and a list of alternative options for reform of the UK’s tax and benefits system.
Citizen’s Basic Income: A Christian Social Policy will be a cheap paperback (rather like 101 Reasons for a Citizen’s Income, and rather unlike the academic hardback The Feasibility of Citizen’s Income). I hope that Christians will read the book and ensure that it gets discussed.
Dr Malcolm Torry is the Director of the Citizen’s Income Trust and a Visiting Senior Fellow at the London School of Economics.