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  

The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics

Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.

Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making

Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show

The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services

With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle

Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune

Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali

To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi

Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun

Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh

With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament

Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair

A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook

‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali

Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards

Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.

Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent

Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art

Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs

Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox

Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole

Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part

Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper

Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s

Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach

Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.

Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite


4