My excitement in discovering a programme on basic income on the BBC World Service (Business Daily, 2 June 2016) was decidedly tempered by the glib ignorance of the interviewer and the wilful ignorance of their professorial expert. After briefly discussing the Swiss referendum on the introduction of a basic income that is due to take place on Sunday, and the forthcoming Finnish pilot scheme, the programme turned to a proposal for a basic income for the UK. While the Swiss are talking about a basic income for an adult of 2,500 Francs a month, or around £21,000 a year, the UK proposal given used a figure of £4,000, which the interviewer was quick to dismiss as ‘pocket money’. But where does that figure come from? £4,000 is not enough to live on – but it is what a person over 25 currently gets on Jobseekers’ Allowance, rounded up. (52 weeks at £73.10 = £3801.) The miserliness of our benefits seemed equally unfamiliar to the (Canadian) professor of economics brought in to poor cold water on the whole idea, who described it as ‘much less than most people would be getting’ now. (He also didn’t seem to understand the principle of combining a basic income with changes in tax bands and tax rates to ensure that the overall system is redistributive and doesn’t give extra money to middle and high earners). With such basic ignorance from the official ‘experts’ and (yes, again) the BBC, it is no wonder we have to struggle so hard to get a sensible debate.
The picture shows Robots for a Basic Income celebrating End of Labour Day in Zurich