Frequently Asked Questions
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What is a basic income?
A basic income is a payment from the state to every resident on an individual basis, without any means test or work requirement. It would be sufficient to live a frugal but decent life without additional income. For people who are not employed, the basic income payment would replace most social welfare payments. For people who are employed, the basic income payment would replace most tax credits. The payment would also extend to those who currently receive no income from any source.
How much would the basic income be?
Currently (June 2019), most of those working on basic income in Ireland are proposing that it be set at the current Jobseeker’s Benefit rate of €203 per week for adults between 18 and 65 years, at the current Child Benefit rate of €140 per month for children under 18, and at the current contributory pension rates of €248.30 and €258.30 for people aged 66-79 and over 80, respectively. BI would replace these core social welfare payments and would be topped up for people eligible for other support payments, such as Carer’s Benefit, Disability Benefit and Housing Assistance Payment. For more details, see papers by our network members, presented at the Basic Income Earth Network Congress in 2012: Micheál Collins’ paper is available here. Seán Healy, Michelle Murphy, Seán Ward and Brigid Reynolds’ paper is available here.
A proposal for a Partial Basic Income set out by Social Justice Ireland envisages a weekly payment to adults of €150 per week, topped up by a range of additional payments for jobseekers, carers, disabled people, one-parent families, etc., to ensure that no one now claiming benefits would be worse off.
Ideally, how would the amount of basic income be decided?
The amount of basic income should always be sufficient to live a decent, dignified life without supplementary income from paid work or other sources. Although some advocates believe that BI should be high, with everyone using it to pay for their own health, education, housing, transport, waste disposal, and other services, we see BI as complementary to free or affordable public services. Some advocates argue that BI should be based on one’s care-needs, and that young children’s BI should be higher than that of adults, and more in line with the payments to people with disabilities, since young children have higher care-needs than adults. Since existing social welfare rates, especially Child Benefit, are not sufficient to meet most people’s needs, a full BI would need to be higher than most current proposals envisage.
In the long term, if basic income were introduced, we would need an independent commission to determine amounts, supplements, change-over ages for increases, and similar issues. Setting the amount would become a central political issue. The commission would have to be composed of members from all social groups. The commission’s core mission would be to ensure that basic income remained universal, unconditional, individual and sufficient.
Wouldn’t basic income be very expensive?
A lot of work has been done in Ireland and internationally on the cost of a basic income system. The overall cost depends on the level of the basic income, but if the level is roughly the same as existing social welfare benefits then the net cost would be similar to the cost of the current system. You can find more information about paying for basic income through income-based taxes in the papers listed above. More recent work looks at other possible sources of funding, such as land value taxes and carbon taxes.
Because basic income provides richer choices, more freedom and better quality of life, it will also contribute to better mental and physical health and lower crime rates. Hospitals, community health services, policing, courts and prisons are paid for from the public purse. The savings made by shrinking these problems should be taken into account when calculating the cost of a basic income and when estimating the return to society and economy on the investment.
Basic income has immediate benefits for all kinds of work, paid and unpaid, as set out in the other pages of this website. It gets money circulating in the real economy, as people spend on everyday needs and services. In its support for small businesses and enterprises, it has the potential to create jobs. In the longer term, it opens up possibilities for and supports a diversity of local work and economic activities. In short, basic income could create economic buoyancy. It is an investment with important long- and short-term returns.
Why bother with basic income at all, if it is paid at the same level as existing social welfare benefits?
A guaranteed, universal basic income changes the conditions under which people receive their income. For example, it reaches people who drop through the net of the current social welfare system, it drastically reduces bureaucracy, it frees claimants from intrusive scrutiny, it supports care work and creative work, it gives young people more security, it provides a financial incentive to take up any paid work that is on offer, and it provides a platform for entrepreneurship. If somebody who is currently earning falls on hard times and cannot earn money, they would still have their basic income, and wouldn’t have to wait for the processing of a welfare application. This has huge benefits for the self-employed, short-contract workers, those in seasonal employment or in precarious employment. All of these effects make basic income a system that is better for society, better for the economy, and better for everyone’s quality of life.
Aren’t there more important things to spend tax revenue on, such as health, housing and education? Why prioritise basic income?
We see basic income as one part of a broad, progressive programme that includes free healthcare, free education and affordable housing, so that everyone can be confident that their basic needs can be met. So it isn’t a case of prioritising basic income over healthcare, any more than we should prioritise healthcare over education or housing. They are all part of the same package.
If everyone had a basic income, why would anyone do any paid work?
A basic income covers only a modest standard of living, so nearly everyone would want to earn more income through paid work. In fact a basic income would provide a financial incentive to unemployed people to take on paid work, because they would always benefit financially by doing so. It functions as a ‘work grant’ for everybody, since it supports all forms of paid work, employed or self-employed. There are also many important forms of work in society that people do not get paid for, and having a basic income would also support those kinds of work. Think about it: if you had a basic income, would you stop working? For more detail, read the pages in the Basic Income and You section of our website.
Has basic income been tried anywhere? If so, how has it worked out?
- Programmes that involve a partial basic income have been introduced in a number of locations. Read a good summary of programmes in Alaska, Brazil and Namibia here.
- The longest-running programme is in the state of Alaska, where all residents receive an annual payment, ranging from $800 to $2000, depending on market conditions. The payment is from a fund based on income the state receives from mineral royalties and other payments. Full details are available here.
- Brazil passed a law in 2004 that commits the country to the gradual implementation of basic income. The current flagship social welfare policy is called the bolsa familia, which is a means-tested payment to families. A pilot basic income project has been in operation in Quantiga Velho, a small communIty near Sao Paulo, since 2008. The website of the project is mostly in Portuguese, but there is an explanation in English in a video on the site
- A two-year pilot project took place in Namibia in 2007-2009. Full details of the project are available here
- A pilot programme, finded by UNICEF and co-sponsored by the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), took place in India in 2010-2013. You can view a video that provides a lot of useful information, read a summary of the results here, or order the book-length analysis of the project here.
- For more recent and on-going pilot projects, there is a good summary by Karl Widerquist of projects in Kenya, Finland, Canada and the United States here. The Canadian experiment was cancelled just after this summary was published; you can see how its participants felt about it in this moving photographic record.
- Preliminary results of the Finland experiment, which ran from January 2017 to December 2018, are available here. They only cover the first year of the project, curing which basic income recipients were no less likely to take up employment than people on standard benefits, but they experienced higher personal well-being and less stress.
Is basic income good for women?
Women are a diverse group, with many different needs and interests, so there is no simple answer to this question. Basic income is not a magic formula for resolving every social or cultural gender issue: we need to have wider social conversations about gender roles and policies. However, for women who are currently unemployed or in low-paid or precarious employment, basic income has the advantages set out in our pages on unemployment and employment. For mothers and women who have other care responsibilities, basic income has the advantages set out in our section on carers. Writers on basic income have debated whether it would have the unintended effect of encouraging women to drop out of paid work for the sake of doing care work. You can find a discussion of that here.
Who qualifies for basic income?
In its most inclusive version, all residents receive the basic income. The issues of who counts as a resident can pose difficulties, given the amount of global migration in today’s world. But the question of how long somebody needs to have ‘habitual residence’ in a state before being eligible for welfare support and other public services is not new. It is not specific to basic income.
Won’t basic income encourage immigration to Ireland? How does it apply to immigrants?
In a world of large-scale global migration, people will continue to enter and leave Ireland. Ideally, all countries in the world would have a basic income, so that everybody everywhere would have the possibility of living well in their home country. Then, people would migrate out of choice rather than necessity. The Basic Income Earth Network has members in many countries working towards that. In the meantime, in Ireland, there are at least three options:
- We could take a lead from Alaska, which has a partial basic income and deals with immigration by paying only a fraction of the basic income for each year a person has spent there. If we did that in Ireland, it would not provide a decent standard of living for the person or family involved, so they would need additional income from paid work, savings or investments. Cases of hardship could be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, as they are in the present social welfare system.
- There is a also a case for extending a full basic income to everyone resident in Ireland. Experience shows that most immigrants are industrious and law-abiding. If they had a full basic income, this would allow them to participate openly in economic and social life, to pay taxes and to add value to society and the economy in all sorts of creative ways. Many poor immigrants, especially those living illegally in a state, are extremely vulnerable and open to exploitation. If they were to receive basic financial security, the possibilities for their exploitation would be reduced.
- A third possibility would be to retain the existing eligibility conditions for income tax credits and the residency condition for accessing many social welfare payments as the gateway to a basic income. The ‘Habitual Residence Condition’ is operated by the Department of Social Protection but subject to EU Regulations for EU nationals who are migrant workers. According to the Department’s Supplement to Habitual Residence Condition (HRC) Guidelines: “The term ‘habitually resident’ is not defined in Irish law, but it generally conveys a degree of permanence – meaning that a person has been here for some time, from a date in the past, and is intending to stay for a period into the forseeable future. It implies a close association between the applicant and the country from which payment is claimed and relies heavily on fact. In certain instances it is possible for someone to have arrived in Ireland for the first time and be habitually resident immediately, for example programme refugees.”
Many members of Basic Income Ireland also think that basic income could replace the current system of direct provision for asylum seekers. This is of course part of a broader political issue.
Isn’t basic income the ‘nanny state’ gone crazy?
Some people have suggested that a basic income involves too much support from the state and will make people too dependent. The way that basic income works is that the state, representing the entire community, provides the same unconditional basic support and security for all members of society. After that, each recipient is free to decide how best to organise the different parts of their lives such as family, personal development, work, education, community participation and leisure. If a person squanders their basic income, they get nothing more from the state. This is very different from the constant monitoring that a so-called nanny state would engage in. Basic income provides a secure environment within which people are enabled to be self-reliant, to cooperate with others, and in general to be creative and imaginative about how they organise their lives.
Why should rich people get a basic income?
Guaranteeing a basic income to everyone, without conditions, is the best way to give economic security to everyone and to show care and respect for everyone. It is also administratively simpler to give basic income to everyone, avoiding the bureaucratic costs and intrusions of means-testing. However, people who are already rich would not be better off overall. In fact, they would make a bigger tax contribution than at present. But the universality of basic income means that should a wealthy person fall on hard times, their basic income would be automatically in place. They would not need to apply for assistance, which, under the present system, can involve a long waiting period.
Remember, if you have a question about basic income that is not on this page or not covered on one of the other pages of the website, please contact us and we will respond to you as soon as we can.