Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Basic Income - A Case Study

This is here now because Corbyn is proposing a basic income scheme, something I strongly agree with in a society where money exists, and I want to use my work as a way of illustrating how this would have been of benefit to people with whom I come in contact if it had existed since the time I started out as a herbalist and a home edder.

For those who don't know, a basic income scheme is a guaranteed unconditional minimum income for all.  Social security is currently conditional, the apparent idea behind that being that it's an incentive to find paid work.  This is a flawed idea.  Against the idea of a basic income, naturally, is the thought that there would be less incentive to work, to which my answer would be that if work is worth doing, it's worth doing for free, but in the meantime you need money to keep going so there has to be some compensation for your time.  Anyway, let's get on with it.  And yes, this most definitely is left-wing propaganda, and since left-wing ideas are good sense, that's not a problem.

Over the past two and a bit decades my main activities have been home ed and herbalism, hence the title of this blog.  Home edding is an extension of parenting which is done for the benefit of society as a whole as well as for the children's sake.  It generally results in better-adjusted adults who engage more socially and are more motivated in their work, more likely to start their own businesses and earn better wages than adults who have been through the school system.  The average home edded child is three years ahead of its peers at school.  I'm sure you don't need to hear all this again but it bears repeating.  It could also be observed that once one has deliberately had children one has a duty to them and society to parent them as well as one can.  Moreover, to some extent schooling is childcare, and in other circumstances adults perform the function of childminders, after-school clubs, parent and toddler groups and so forth.  All of this is done as a matter of course rather than as a paid chore.

As I continued to home educate, I began to offer workshops and the like on a variety of subjects which I hoped would interest and stimulate the children concerned as well as provide them with an ultimately useful skill and knowledge set.  This worked quite well.  In some circumstances I would ask for a small sum of money for this and after some time I noticed that it was providing about a third of my income.  I then decided to concentrate on it and the income dried up, which is not surprising.  If you're looking for an equivalent in wider society, this was rather similar to the role of a school teacher although very differently structured.  However, unlike a schoolteacher's role, it cost the state absolutely nothing, and we also saved the state several thousand pounds a year by not sending our children to school.  Over a ten-year period this would have added up to something like £100 000.

There was, however, pressure to work for money during that period which restricted our ability to concentrate on these activities, and my need to charge families for participation made it too expensive for some of them.

Now, suppose a basic income scheme had been in place while I was doing that.  I could have provided all of this for free (at the point of delivery, as the saying goes).  I could, moreover, not have had my horizons narrowed by fear of penury and the fact of poverty.  The situation where I chose to switch to the educational side of my activities as a main source of income which led to a reduction in those activities wouldn't have occurred either.  All of those things could have been avoided by having such a scheme, and whereas it would cost the taxpayer a lot, it would also save the taxpayer at the very least that £100 000 I mentioned earlier.

Now for the herbalism.

I've practiced as a herbalist for seventeen years now, and have seen thousands of patients in that time.  I've managed to help nearly all of them, and moreover I've succeeded in keeping many of them away from the NHS where they would have taken up time and money.  However, I've also needed to charge them and although I operate a sliding scale there are limits to what I can afford to do.  I also do benefit appeals for free and give out a fair amount of advice without asking for payment.  All this is very good of course.  However, like most other herbalists, I cannot make a living on the herbalism alone.  Most ongoing herbal practices are propped up by other sources of income,  Now, in recent months I myself have a reliable source of income, and have found that over that period the income from herbalism has risen considerably because I am not now in a position of having my horizons and plans restricted emotionally and mentally by that lack of income I previously experienced.  I believe my practice has been an asset to the community even though my income is small.

Once again, let's look at this in terms of basic income.  Had I had a guaranteed income from somewhere over all that time, it looks very much like my business would have grown and the taxes I paid would have increased accordingly, and the evidence for this is in the fact that my income from herbalism is in fact increasing right now due to the security of another source of money coming in.  Even if it hadn't, though, the benefit to my patients would have been considerable, and that benefit would have been paid forward.  Patients whose health improves are likely to be more economically productive and also less likely to cost the NHS as much money.  A major reason why I haven't been able to do this as easily is fear and the effect it has on future planning and rationality.  That fear could have been dispelled by a basic income.

You may ask, of course, why I wouldn't just have sat back and let the money from basic income roll in without lifting a finger.  The answer to this is twofold.  Firstly, that's no way to live.  It would lead to mental health problems and unhappiness and people want to be occupied and useful, something we should all trust in each other.  Secondly, I honestly don't believe people actually do that when they have a secure source of income unrelated to how much work they do.  Rich people don't, for example.  Just because Bill Gates is a billionaire, that hasn't stopped him from working, and poor people on social security also work.  They just work without being paid for it.  They parent, do housework, volunteer for socially useful causes and so on.

Even if this wasn't true though, why would you even care?  People are of infinite value already because of the fact that they are people, and that needs to be recognised.  Isn't it worth paying that amount of public money simply to remove the motive for doing socially harmful work and to remove an enormous burden of fear and stress from people's everyday lives?  Not to mention the burden on society of mental and physical illness, crime and law enforcement, which is not only onerous but also financial in nature.

That's just a personal view on how a basic income scheme would have helped me.  The research is out there to support it for other reasons.  That policy alone would make voting Labour worthwhile if they adopt it, and don't let anyone talk it down for you because it would be bloody brilliant for the whole of society, not just the poor and underemployed.