The first time I came across the ‘diffusion of innovations’ was when I was working in a church. It’s a business theory created by a man called Everett Rogers, and it’s quite commonly used to explain why it can take a long time to change anything. The basic idea is that change begins with people called ‘innovators’: people who think of or encourage new ideas. The early adopters are people who begin very early on to see the potential of a new idea and champion it. The early majority and late majority are people in the middle, some of whom get on board with new ideas early on and others who prefer to wait and be 100% sure about them first. Finally, the laggards are the people who dislike change in general and often adapt late or not at all.
The idea of Universal Basic Income is not exactly a new idea, but it seems that it is gaining traction. I might even say that it has moved from being supported by only a fringe of ‘innovators’ to being championed by many early adopters. This is very exciting in my opinion.
Universal Basic Income, or UBI, is an idea whereby, instead of having state benefits, you have a universal state income of say £100 a week paid to everyone. In a world where many people in low paid work can’t live on what they earn even working full-time, but have no power or influence to ask for more, it would give people freedom and empower them to leave jobs when they’re being mistreated or underpaid.
Another benefit of the UBI is that, in places where it has been trialled, statistics have shown that women were more able to leave and divorce their husbands in cases of abuse, because they were no longer financially dependent on them. It liberated these women and they were able to turn their lives around.
Welfare has become toxic in this country: not only are people on benefits demonised by much of the press, but job centre workers who deal with people on benefits are often now paid bonuses when they stop people’s benefits, resulting in many being sanctioned for the smallest of things and going weeks without money to buy food. Food bank use has soared since 2012.
On top of this, many of the traditional working class jobs in manufacturing and factory work are disappearing as people are being replaced by machines. It’s not only manufacturing and factories though: a third of all jobs in retail will likely be gone by 2025, and the problem could spread to transport soon, as automated trucks are already being tested on long trips across Europe. All of this spells disaster for working class people. While our economy adjusts, we are going to need a robust system of security for vast amounts of people without jobs- one which is both simple and efficient.
So UBI would solve problems for women in abusive relationships; empower people to move more freely between jobs and leave when a job is exploitative; erase the need for food banks; remove the toxicity and bureaucracy of the welfare system and negative attitudes towards those on benefits; and halt the impending unemployment crisis in large parts of the jobs market. However there are still many who say that it wouldn’t work.
On the left, people say that it is unworkable because there would still need to be means-testing, especially if, as proposed by the Green Party, the payment would be taken away from people when they reached a certain level of income. On the other hand, people on the right say that it is impossible to pay for and would create a large ‘class’ of people living off welfare and contributing nothing to the economy.
These may be valid reasons to oppose the idea of UBI, but they miss the main point: it is universal, and to remove the universality would be, in the words of author Nick Srnicek, to remove the ‘political power that means-tested benefits don’t [have].’ The UBI ‘has to be unconditional’, he says. On the money side of things, it could be paid for simply by shutting down tax havens, as is proven by the recent Panama Papers release. If we were able to create the welfare state and the NHS after the devastation of WW2, we can pay for UBI now.
The word ‘unconditional’ resonates strongly with my faith. We often talk as Christians of God’s ‘unconditional love’. One of my favourite stories in the Bible is ‘the feeding of the multitude’. It appears six times in four gospels: it must be a very important story! The disciples tell Jesus that the large crowd is hungry and Jesus responds, not by means-testing them all, but by providing food for everyone regardless of income.
Whether the miracle was Jesus’ power or people’s generosity doesn’t really matter. The main point is that God’s love is universal. In Acts, it says that ‘God’s grace was so powerfully at work in [the apostles] that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need’ (Acts 4.33b-35).
The apostles loved each other in the same way that God loves us: unconditionally and universally. This is our calling too. I believe that it's time for us to embrace the Universal Basic Income.