Welfare 2.0: Universal Basic Services
In the near future, nearly half of all work that humans currently do could be carried out by Robots.
If this is even partially true, then the fallout will exacerbate an already deep and growing problem. Workers are already beginning to feel that the social contract is failing. They feel that they are keeping their end of the bargain but, due to rising living costs, lower job quality and security, declining public services and dwindling pension schemes, they feel they are not getting much back in return. They feel their toil creates a lot of wealth but that wealth is more and more being distributed to fewer and fewer people.
As machines take over, more wealth will flow to the few humans lucky enough to own and produce them. Millions of people will be forced to adapt to a new paradigm of what it means to lead a meaningful, fulfilling life. Millions will become superfluous to the running of society. It’s a problem that requires radical changes to the welfare system but in the UK policy is going in the opposite direction to what is needed.
Successive UK governments have presided over a decimation in universal services.
Over the last few decades, control over utilities and transport has been sold off, free tertiary education has been pulverised, the Welfare State has been demolished and it is clear that it is the current government’s plan to privatise the NHS.
Only in Scotland have we held out against most of these changes due to having a more socialist mindset and a degree of autonomy.
The early stages of this crisis is affecting politics both in the UK and in other countries. Right wing authoritarian policies are on the rise, propelled by demigods offering simple solutions to the rising insecurities that people feel.
However, there are policies we can adopt that don’t involve hatred and isolationism.
The most popular one is called Universal Basic Income. This is the idea that each citizen receives a payment from the state that is enough to cover basic needs. The idea is that this amount would allow people to be comfortable enough to pursue other goals as traditional works declines. People might start their own business, make crafts or create content on the internet ect.
This week, UCL’s Institute of Global Policy proposed an alternative concept.
They released a report suggesting that expanding the Welfare State to cover everyone’s basic needs could be affordable and practical.
UBS in detail:
The Universal Basic Services (UBS) would expand the current welfare system to give everyone a right to shelter, food, transport and IT services.
- Shelter: doubling the existing social housing stock by funding the building of 1.5 million new social housing units using 30-year Treasuries at current market rates. The new units would be offered on a needs basis at zero rent. All social housing would be exempted from Council Tax, and include a utilities allowance. With a seven-year building schedule the costs start at £6.1bn and finalise at £13bn from the 7th year onwards.
- Food: A food service would provide one third of the meals for the 2.2 million households deemed to experience food insecurity each year. This would add to existing programs such as free school meals and meals on wheels, providing 1.8 billion meals at a cost of £4bn per year.
- Transport: Extending the existing Freedom Pass (currently for citizens over the age of 60) to everyone for bus services, providing access to free local public transport services that enable citizens and residents access to jobs, education, healthcare and participate fully in their community – all of which are currently under threat. Assuming an increase in use of 260% the cost would be £5bn per year.
- Information: To promote digital inclusion, this covers the cost of basic phone, Internet and the BBC TV licence fee. This would enable access to work opportunities and other services, as well as participation in our democracy as informed citizens.This is the most expensive service considered, with an annual budget of £20bn, however it also delivers universal value across all income groups and keeps all citizens connected in our increasingly digital world.
The authors of the report say it would be much more affordable than Universal Basic Income.
Whereas even a modest Universal basic income of £73.10 per week would equal 31 percent of all UK government spending, Universal Basic Services would only cost 5 percent of existing budgets. Those with the lowest income would benefit the most – saving the equivalent of £126 per week in costs if they accessed all the Basic Services.
These figures are for the UK as a whole but, as I said at the beginning of the article, the UK is moving in the opposite direction.
In Scotland, we are much more in favour of stronger universal services. We kept free tuition, we instigated free prescriptions, we shield the unemployed from the worst Tory welfare cuts, we have introduced Baby Boxes and we are currently trying to end period poverty.
As we move forward, society needs to be quick to adapt. I doubt a post-Brexit isolationist UK guided by an austerity-driven government will have the foresight to deliver. Thankfully most of the competencies are devolved so I hope to see Scotland setting an example by seriously investigating and trialling this type of radical change.
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