When you hear the phrase “money for nothing” many will think of the 1985 Dire Straits song that Mark Knopfler and Sting wrote about rock star excess and the easy life it brings compared with real work. The classic rock song – the first music video to air on MTV Europe – has not been without controversy and people objecting to its lyrics, which got us thinking about the concept of been given “money for nothing”, quite literally and the storm brewing in political corridors around the world debating the merits of an unconditional basic income.
Imagine if you will, everyone receiving an income from the state each year that is unconditional, regardless of whether you’re in paid employment or not, wealth or social contribution with no strings attached. It might sound like we’ve joined the Teletubbies in la la land, but the idea is spreading into mainstream politics. Trials are being tried out around the world and findings from those in India and Brazil have suggested that, contrary to modern stereotypes about ‘welfare’ and a benefits system reducing people’s initiative, a basic income might actually increase people’s appetite for work, by adding to their sense of stability.
The idea of a universal basic income dates back centuries, bringing promises of a happier and healthier population, as a means of promoting social justice, equal opportunity and restoring individual choice and freedom championed by legendary public figures like Martin Luther King and Silicon Valley funding research into UBI’s viability. More relatable, with six in 10 British households struggling to make ends meet who have someone in work, to eradicate poverty.
Switzerland was the first country to hold a vote this year to introduce a guaranteed basic income for all, but the majority – 77 per cent – opposed the plan, with just 23 per cent backing it. Maybe the amount of “money for nothing” was set too high, suggesting a monthly income equivalent to £1,700 with an extra £400 for each child, which reflected the high cost of living in Switzerland?
With the looming prospect of stagnant wages and living standards set to become the worst since World War II, do you think UBI is a credible, ambitious plan that will allow people meaningful choices or a deeply radical idea that will never become anything more than political talk? We’ll keep our eyes peeled on Scotland this week, which could become the first part of the UK to trial UBI after a pilot scheme won backing from campaigners and councillors and the ruling Scottish National Party voted in favour of a motion backing the principle of UBI earlier this year.
Has the time finally arrived where we really don’t have to exist simply to spend a third of our lives working for someone else? We don’t hold our breath that this is a viable plan that will happen overnight, nor anytime in the years to come, particularly as a recently tabled early-day motion in the House of Commons about UBI resulted in an uninspiring thirty two MPs out of the total 650 MPs signed up to the idea!