Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Back to basics

Barb Jacobson on the campaign for an unconditional basic income

October 28, 2016
4 min read

money treeI started organising for a basic income during the European Citizens Initiative (ECI) for unconditional basic income in 2013. From my background with Wages for Housework in the 1980s, local organising around housing and healthcare in the 1990s and 2000s, to say nothing of my current paid work as a welfare rights advisor, it seemed like an obvious demand to put forward. Women (and increasingly men) still struggle with impoverishment and to have our unpaid work as carers recognised as crucial to the functioning of society. The benefits system is turning into a virtual workhouse. Cuts to services and increasing conditionality have been going on relentlessly for over 30 years. It was time to go on the offensive with something new.

When the ECI finished in January 2014, we had collected nearly 300,000 signatures across 27 countries. While we didn’t make the million required to get an audience with the European Commission, we did better than any other initiative proposed without the backing of a large NGO. More importantly, we had a network of people across Europe who wanted to continue working together. In February 2014 we decided to carry on as Unconditional Basic Income Europe (UBIE).

We build on the work of the older Basic Income Earth Network which has been keeping the idea of basic income alive for the past 30 years. What was missing, however, was a sense of urgency. Basic income is an urgent need felt by young people especially – for income security, for the capacity to use talents and education largely wasted by the job market, to have the freedom to create a better world, to come up with solutions to problems that neither the state nor the market can fix. If the Swiss basic income referendum last June had been restricted to people under 35, it would have been won with 54 per cent of the vote.

UBIE gives us a place to share information and strategies in our individual countries and a transnational organisation that can have an impact on the EU and its policies. Two major projects are looking at the idea of a ‘EuroDividend’ to win some income redistribution from richer countries to poorer ones, and pilot studies in different areas of the EU, where several localities have expressed an interest in testing basic income. It has become apparent that EU subsidies are not reaching the people who most need them, nor in a way that truly builds their capacity in social or economic terms.

If the Brexit vote taught us nothing else, it is that whatever rights the EU guarantees, many in the lowest-paid jobs and in rural areas of the UK do not feel these rights belong to them. It costs money to enforce these rights, and without union or other institutional backup, this is impossible for most.

Largely missing from the discussion about the effects of migration on the UK was the effects of the parallel impact of depopulation in the countries migrants come from. Bulgaria will lose 50 per cent of its population by 2020, and Latvia 40 per cent – often their most skilled and energetic young people. The money they send back cannot make up for the loss of their skills and creativity – also largely wasted in the jobs they can get here.

From citizens’ point of view, the right to freedom of movement needs to be twinned with the financial wherewithal to stay put, and flexible working needs to be twinned with income security. Both could be guaranteed by basic income policies at the EU and national levels.

Instead, European officials have been doubling-down on restrictive economic policies in the countries hardest hit by the crisis. This directly fuels movements to leave the EU in many European countries. These movements play on racism, while the real problems are financial insecurity and the wars outside Europe supported by our governments. Since there is always enough money for war, why not for a basic income?

Throughout the EU we need an economy that works for people. We need more democratic structures so that people have more control over policies that affect them. Otherwise Europe risks becoming a gated community for old white people, while the poorest people from the rest of the world are forced to change their bedpans.

Barb Jacobson is chair of Unconditional Basic Income Europe. www.basicincome-europe.org

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright

Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones

‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression

Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death

‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum

The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes

Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference

Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki

Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers

Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project

Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power

What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains

The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going


4