John Mcdonnell with residents and supporters of Grow Heathrow outside Central London County Court. Photo: Jonathan Goldberg/Flikr
Jeremy Corbyn bags available in the Red Pepper shop
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has announced that as part of its new economic policy the Labour Party is considering a universal basic income (UBI)—a regular payment from the state to each of its citizens, without means testing or work requirements. The news will no doubt be greeted by a chorus of complaints decrying the idea of ‘free money’ and the something-for-nothing mentality that supposedly underpins the left’s approach to welfare.
Yet we should remind them and ourselves that we already live in a something-for-nothing society, just not the one that most people might think of. Far from the near-mythical figure of the welfare scrounger, talked about with a toxic combination of glee and contempt by the tabloid press, there’s no bigger winner when it comes to ‘state handouts’ than big business.
Be it the billions spent by the treasury on subsidising poverty wages, or companies such as Virgin Rail that rely on the taxpayer to turn a profit, or the corporate undervaluation of state assets that frequently precedes their privatisation, the modern corporation is the premier specialist in taking from the public and giving to the shareholder.
What we are told we get in return are of course jobs, and with it the opportunity to live a secure and meaningful life. The reality, however, is far from the utopia of work we are readily sold, even if employment is rising. Instead what we have is an explosion of low-skill, low-pay jobs, with minimal stability and limited career progression. For many the market fails to deliver on its promise of a good life. To achieve it we must look elsewhere.
Enter a UBI, a form of unconditional welfare that offers the possibility of reducing the reliance of the individual on waged work, providing security where employment cannot. This gains added significance when we consider the likely job-destroying effects of technological development, with as many as 11 million jobs in the UK at risk of being automated by 2036.
Indeed, whilst a UBI should be based on the principle of redistribution, its premier value is in recognising a right to life in the face of tremendously disruptive technological change. Rather than something for nothing, a UBI is a much-needed and potentially transformative response to one of the contradictions of contemporary capitalism—dependence on work that is disappearing—and one that McDonnell is right to consider supporting.
Of course, when considering the dominance of negative attitudes to welfare, building widespread support for a UBI is undoubtedly an uphill task. But what political goal worth pursuing isn’t? Already there is an emerging network of institutions throughout civil society working towards changing the debate around welfare and attempting to push the idea of a UBI into the mainstream. Its adoption as policy by the Greens and its growing support within the Labour Party is evidence of their success, and the increasing attraction of a UBI.
If support for a UBI continues to grow, so too will the racket made by its detractors, and the ideological figure of the welfare scrounger will re-emerge with renewed vigour. Yet we should respond by pointing to the fact that we already have a something-for-nothing society, just one that works for the few. A UBI will go some way to changing this.
Hilary Wainwright argues against reclaiming populism for the left and for a leadership that supports people’s capacity for self-government
It may seem as though these apps are working for us, but we are also working for the apps, writes Kurt Iveson
It's over 100 years ago that domestic workers began to organise to demand the same rights as other workers. Yet with LSE cleaners on strike this week, historian Laura Schwartz asks: how much has really changed?
Omar Barghouti asks whether Donald Trump, in his recent break with America’s long-standing support for the two-state solution, has unwittingly revived the debate about the plausibility, indeed the necessity, of a single, democratic state in historic Palestine?
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
In the first of a series of interviews with migrants' rights and racial justice activists from the US, Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out
Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’