We have a complicated benefits system with inefficiencies, loopholes and most of all it gets incredibly political. Cuts are made against the poor on the grounds that they waste money, or that they are scroungers, causing cuts in things like disability benefits which are actually hitting some of the most vulnerable in our society. We need to rethink the benefits system and, despite my position as an avid freemarketer, I think that the Basic Income system could be the answer to the problems it has.
It would first of all streamline the benefits system. It would make it much simpler to know what individuals are receiving, how much combined household income will be and more importantly it helps prevent any abuses and allegations of abuses. You would no longer be able to deliberately injure yourself to receive benefits for being unable to work (if someone would be so extreme) and people would no longer be able to say people are capable of doing such things (whether they do or not). On top of all this, reform becomes much easier to debate publicly as it will be clear whether it does and does not keep people above the poverty line.
In this country we also have an issue with in work poverty; currently 2/3 of children in poverty live in working families. The basic income would be a very effective way of supplementing this income and guaranteeing that those in work really get the rewards from being in work. Of course, this would mean a basic income would have to be carefully worked out to be sufficient enough to allow for a basic living standard but not enough to disincentivise work. It is not for me to say exactly where that sits, it would require significant research, but at least in logical terms it makes a lot of sense.
It will also reduce the politicisation of the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. Politicians have cut benefits or increased them for political gain and if we created a well researched policy which we know guarantees a basic living standard while incentivising work that had guarantees for inflation and the average cost of living – this would stop this happening. Unnecessary increases would be shot down as being over generous and unnecessary and cuts would be seen as attacks on the poor where the effect on their life will be simpler to understand.
A necessary check will also have to be not giving it, at least immediately, to migrants. It would cause a huge influx looking to claim free money and this would significantly raise the cost of the whole project and potentially make it unworkable. It should be limited to citizens and permanent residents of Britain as it ensures that they can have a guarantee of a good life without opening up our benefits system to abuses from economic migration. There is potential for this to help incentivise “good” immigration where people look to come here to work hard in the long term to secure a better life, and perhaps help reduce things like benefit tourism that have been frequently alleged.
Simply put the Benefits system is an old steam engine that needs updating to a levitating magnetic train. We live in the 21st century, and it seems to be failing. Let us streamline the welfare system, decrease in-work poverty, take the most vulnerable in out society out of the machinations of democratic and electoral politics and let us ensure people cannot abuse state handouts.