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02 March 2017
By Matt Hrkac

Time to consider a Universal Basic Income

There is no denying it. Unemployment is a social burden, and a major driver of inequality in our society. There are a few countries now flirting with the idea of giving everyone cash payments with no obligations as one way of resolving this. The Greens platform advocates for a UBI, and it’s time for our Government to seriously look at the idea as well.

When one looks at the statistics – the ratio of job seekers, both unemployed and under-employed, to jobs available may be as high as 19 to 1 across Australia, according to data collated by the Australian Unemployed Workers Union. Unemployment and under-employment are statistically worse in regional and rural communities, and it’s also statistically worse among young Australians, as well as over 45’s.

Despite the statistics – successive governments still insist on pressuring people to find work irrespective of an individual’s skills, expertise or interests, as an obligation of receiving NewStart payments that are well below the poverty line. If said person fails to find work after a certain period of time – they are required to “Work for the Dole” (a program that entrenches unemployment), else payments are cut.

Despite the statistics – successive governments still insist on pressuring people to find work irrespective of an individual’s skills, expertise or interests.

Nay-sayers can often be heard shouting that “jobs exist, if you look for them”; which, frankly, is a cop out. If the jobs are there, nobody would be unemployed or under-employed. Also, because unemployment is used as a tool to control inflation; full private sector employment is impossible. In other words, there will always be a buffer of people out of work, no matter how good or bad the economy is performing.

We have our current Government trialing the ‘cashless welfare card’ in some communities, and it should be very obvious that this is nothing but populist pandering. Denying people of their self-determination, effectively shaming them, is and should never be touted as a solution.

Unemployed people should be treated with respect and dignity. The implementation of a Universal Basic Income would aid to this, as well as providing the opportunity to converge all currently existing social welfare payment streams and supplements into a single stream, and raising it well above the poverty line.

It’s generally progressive policy, but it also has aspects that would appeal to people across the political spectrum. For example, it would have the effect of cutting ‘red tape’ by broadly simplifying the welfare system; while at the same time helping to resolve the social costs of unemployment. Fostering a sense of dignity, individual freedom and choice, innovation, self-improvement and creativity are also appealing aspects.

It is also a given that increasing automation of industry will cause unemployment to rise – as robots and AI replace a traditional human workforce. Although it will be some years, even decades, until this completely takes hold; it’s still a good idea to have the vision to think ahead and work towards resolving the social cost of unemployment now, rather than wait for it to become worse.

Originally written for a Greens on Campus 2017 O'Week Booklet, for the Australian Young Greens.

About the author:

Matt Hrkac is a writer and activist based in Geelong who regularly contributes to Green Left Weekly. He has particular interests in politics, elections and the trade union movement and has had extensive involvement in a number of local campaigns. He is a former member of the Greens.

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