I wanted to pick up on one or two threads which emerged in the discussion following my recent brief post about housing benefits. As Kolya remarked in the comments, this is not the kind of issue which seems to encourage a calm exchange of views, certainly not a shift in anyone’s established position. However, although we may not see quite eye to eye on such issues, I can grudgingly admit that there is nothing wildly objectionable about the two concerns he cites with relation to welfare payments:
1) that their real financial costs be known, that they be discussed in the overall context of weighing the rival demands on public spending, and that they be deemed affordable in terms of the available state revenues; and
2) that they not create artificial incentives that drive people’s life strategies in individually and socially unproductive directions.
I’ve touched on the idea of the ‘citizen’s income’ before here, and would very much appreciate further thoughts from readers on the topic. There are different variations on the citizen’s income model – related terms are basic income guarantee or citizen’s dividend. Although it might at first seem that a guaranteed income would disincentivise work, in fact it cuts through many of the distortions introduced by the benefit system which too often mean that people are better off – or scarcely worse off – if they don’t seek paid work.
According to this survey prodcued by Citizens Income Online, Liberal Democrat MPs are most likely to view the citizen’s income idea with approval, followed fairly closely by Labour. Conservatives trail considerably behind.
But I am not sure why the idea of a citizen’s income need only appeal to those on the left. The rhetoric in this PDF, also produced by Citizens Income Online, seems in tune with some of the thinking behind, say, Iain Duncan-Smith’s attempts to reform welfare.
So – I’ll be interested to see if this scheme – whose goals are summed up in the PDF as follows:
end the poverty and unemployment traps, hence boosting employment
provide a safety net from which no citizen would be excluded
create a platform on which all citizens are free to build
manages to cut across the usual HP divisions on posts of this nature.