Covid-19 has caused a worldwide crisis in public health, economy and society, as well as for individuals and households. It requires new, imaginative government measures along with citizen action and participation. We need to find new ways of thinking about work and contribution, while protecting the most vulnerable in communities everywhere.
At this time of emergency, we call on the Government of Ireland to pay a permanent, unconditional Universal Basic Income (UBI) of at least €203 per week to all legal residents between 18 and state pension age, starting as quickly as possible.
This is one essential part of the measures urgently needed to help our society and economy cope with and eventually recover from the crisis. It will also provide resilience for society, economy, households and individuals in the face of any further crises.
What are the specifics?
In our proposal, Universal Basic Income will be at least €203 per week for those between 18 and state-pension age.
We call for a Universal Basic Income of at least €203 per week because this is the current maximum rate of Jobseeker’s Benefit and other core social welfare benefits. Basic Income Ireland has always maintained that current benefit levels are inadequate and that the level of UBI should be based on the real cost of living. Although some people will justifiably receive higher payments during the current emergency, these are temporary. Universal Basic Income is universal, unconditional, and permanent, and so provides basic financial security to everyone.
Universal Basic Income will require no application process for those already registered for income tax or social welfare payments. It will be paid directly to the resident’s bank or post office accounts.
For those in receipt of Jobseeker’s Benefit – currently €203 per week – Universal Basic Income will replace this. It will also replace the UBI amount in the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment, enhanced Illness Benefit and other selected core benefits such as disability payments and Carer’s Allowance.
For employees, the payment will replace current income tax credits and allowances below the level of the UBI payment, as well as USC thresholds. The Revenue Commissioners will issue new tax certificates to employers and individuals. People with good incomes will continue to pay an appropriate amount of tax. In this way, means-testing will be shifted from the welfare office to the tax office, and nobody will be left out.
For those currently in receipt of no payment from the State or from other sources, Universal Basic Income will provide essential, basic financial support. A straightforward registration procedure will need to be brought in for these recipients. People who do not have bank or post-office accounts will either receive assistance in opening one, or have one opened on their behalf.
Benefits for children and pensioners, including Child Benefit and the State Pension, will continue to be paid in the usual way.
Universal Basic Income will not be counted as taxable income.
Why are we calling for this?
Universal Basic Income is a well-established proposal which has been investigated in Ireland for almost forty years. There is always value in a safety net, but in times of crisis the need becomes greater than ever. UBI will promote stability through the shocks triggered by the pandemic. It will also give us the space to hold a national conversation about what our post-pandemic economy and society should look like.
There are many gaps and unpredictable situations in current emergency provisions. Trying to fill these gaps on a case-by-case basis is not enough given how diverse forms of employment and work can be. Universal Basic Income reaches everybody immediately, without an application procedure or delays in payment. If it were already in place, some recent emergency measures would not have been necessary.
Universal Basic Income will provide basic financial security for all individuals and households. For everyone, it will provide the means to meet basic living costs. It will help keep money circulating in the real everyday economy because people will have money to spend.
It will contribute to long-term resilience in the face of Covid-19 and other shocks that we may face in future.
Universal Basic Income will relieve pressure on the unemployed, on all employees, including those on low pay and insecure work, on families and on employers.
Universal Basic Income is an expression of the care that every member of society deserves at this time. It is also an expression of social cohesion and it supports equality. These factors in turn contribute to the maintenance of mental well-being, which is essential for coping well with the crisis and for looking to the future with creativity and imagination.
The payment will give more people the option to spend more time on caring and voluntary work. Some of this work will be focused on coping with day-to-day living issues and providing care for others.
Universal Basic Income will help create the demand necessary to invigorate businesses in this time of crisis.
It will also support people who want to start the new enterprises that will be necessary in a restructured, equitable and ecologically stable economy after we emerge from the pandemic.
Universal Basic Income will provide support for all of this work.
It will also function as an investment in the future, because it will support flexible long-term decision making. It will support everyone’s creativity and freedom to participate in people-friendly and ecologically sound enterprises and actions.
We need to confront this crisis with bold, innovative thinking while maintaining a concern for inclusion, equality and solidarity.
In introducing this universal and unconditional payment, the Irish government will lead the way in valuing all members of society as active participants in working through the Covid-19 crisis and building the future. Universal Basic Income is not the only public policy we need, but its absence will make the work of coping and of restructuring much more difficult.
Can we afford this?
In some countries, including Ireland, much investigation of costs has already been done. Social Justice Ireland has developed models. UBI was part of the Green Party’s manifesto in the recent general election. The financing of a basic income has already been studied by NESC, a Commission on Taxation, a Commission on Social Welfare and the ESRI, and analysed in a government Green Paper in 2002.
In the current crisis, the funding models used by this earlier work may not be appropriate. However, all over the world, governments are taking unprecedented steps to support their populations and their economies. The cost of a Universal Basic Income is well within the budget limits that other countries are setting for Covid-19 relief. Recent commitments from the European Central Bank mean that Eurozone governments can afford Universal Basic Income now.
In these unprecedented circumstances, the real question isn’t whether we can afford to pay for a Universal Basic Income, but whether we can afford not to.
How can it be implemented?
Universal Basic Income can be rolled out quickly to people who already receive State benefits, and almost as quickly to all other taxpayers. A registration procedure will need to be put in place for other residents and payments can be phased in in stages.
See also: related press release