In 1978, in one of my first steps into the new life that had just opened up for me, I organised a conference in Harrogate on the implications of, what was then known as, the new technology. Among the contributors was Tom Stonier from Bradford University, Tom Burke, then Director of Friends of the Earth, and Andrew McKillop from Hull School of Architecture. Somewhere I, probably, still have the transcript.
Professor Stonier talked about what people would do with the, much increased, leisure time that they would have in the future upon which questions were raised in regard to providing an income for all the people who would no longer have to work for a living. Now, I may have been a little naïve in those days and I suggested that the best way might be to give everyone a basic income whether they worked or not!
If we move on a few years, I then ran a city farm which was built and run by people, myself included, who were on a job creation scheme. If we then move on another few years, I ran another charity which helped people, who were homeless and/or unemployed, to build their own sustainable homes. All of these people delivered the goods and, during that time 16 years in all, I only ever met one person who didn’t want a job. So the idea that people who are on benefits are idle scroungers, not only has never sat well with me but is, largely, proven incorrect in my direct experience.
And my reason for this diatribe today? Well only an article in The Guardian describing the success of the trials of a Universal Basic Income Scheme in Finland. Under this, people are paid £500 per month (less than one fifth of the average wage) with no strings attached. The country’s Social Affairs Minister (described as Finland’s equivalent of Iain Duncan Smith) is quoted as saying that she believes that the country’s citizens really do want to work. Something that echoes my own, admittedly small, experience. It also appears that the scheme is also successful in helping people into gainful employment. Meanwhile back in 19th century England……….