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COMMONERS VOICES

Universal Credit - a UBI horror story

I write this on behalf of a few friends and a few stories I've heard about Universal Credit.


As a preamble, I might breifly point out that it's inspiration 'Universal Basic Income' was an idea by conservative economist Milton Freidman, who intended that UBI would replace the need for the welfare state, allowing it's complete privitisation - the idea; who needs free healthcare or education when you can pay for it thanks to UBI. In this sense Universal Basic Income is a trojan horse for the overthrow of collectively funded provision. If the social state is expanded and welfare provision improved along side the introduction of UBI then UBI's paradoxical threat may be reduced, but always remember that the necessity for expanding collectively funded social provision takes precedent over replacing welfare with UBI - UBI in this sense is neutral, it is no more emancipatory that current social provision. In welfare states, UBI already exists in the form of welfare provision - the only people who see it as emancipatory are people who believe it will provide enough money to provide a decent standard of living, that it will provide more value than current welfare - which it cannot within the present economic relations which make necessary the savage curtailing of wages in order to increase falling profits.


Take for example, the introduction of 'Universal Credit' in the UK. The conservative parties flagship welfare system is designed to encourage claimants to find work, by 'simulating' employment. This means that claimants have to wait 6 weeks to recieve their first payment, and failing to attend a meeting results in the suspension of pay (if you need to cancel a meeting, you have to ring a pay line and will have to wait 30 minutes to reach someone capable of cancelling or rearranging your appointment.) Before being able to claim, claimants must use a private company to prove their identity, they have 5 days to do this, and the private companies take around this length of time, if you do not prove your identity in time (even if you are 5 minutes over) you have to begin the process of claiming all over again.


 Claimants have to use a new digital system to update the service of their attempts to find work - the digital system is deliberately simplified to the point of being utterly confusing, I know people who can build websites who struggle to operate it. I struggle to understand how someone who lacks digital literacy can operate this system. And the burden of it's design failures is placed on the human components of the service, the staff, who are performance monitored precisely and take personal risks to help people operate the user interface of the service.


The new service aims to 'make work pay' by reducing the payments from the service on a sliding scale as you work more. This supposedly allows claimants to work precarious jobs and return to the service when the zero-hours contract or gig economy labour is not available. They reduce the claim by 60p for every pound earned through work. Whilst this sounds sensible, the way it actually works is that there is an earnings cap (for a household) of £1150 (approx 1000 euros) per month. The system will pay out a maximum of £1200. Let's not beat around the bush, £1200 for a household is a poverty wage, so many claimants of Universal Credit visit food banks regularly and are accumulating debt from private loans companies - wether or not they are working - with interest rates as high as 3000% apr. And if you earn £1 over the earnings cap for 3 months then your claim is cancelled and you have to go through the entire 6 week process of registering for it again.


The sliding scale is promoted as a great, humanitarian gift, but is in fact and insult to the notion of welfare, with the cap set so low, Universal Credit is not a safety net but a noose.


Trying to deal with specific problems is a nightmare, the service design is such so that in order to deal with problems the service user must contact many different departments who do not talk to oneanother - the service is designed to ensure that one hand doesnt know what the other is doing - and this places the burden of administration onto overworked staff or the claimant themself.


The complexity of the service, the performance measurement, the appaling user interface design and the low level of payment is forcing millions into poverty in the UK. Universal Credit, along side other cuts by the conservative government - is now cited as causing at least 120,000 excess deaths. 28% of UK children are now raised in poverty, and there are over 2 million families dependant on food banks. This is great for the political right who pour propaganda over the heads of citizens that these problems are created by immigrants, not by the bourgeosie. 


This isnt how the left imagined Universal Basic Income - but this is one of many ways it could be implimented. That's why we need to not think about doling out welfare in monetary terms but in social provision, free to access for all.

3 Comments

Anonymous avatar

Anonymous

May 14, 2018 at 16:08

The basic income is not always something good... as the writer say in this article... can be very bad if have the Friedman approach. That means no more welfare, but just some charity and "god help you and have a good luck". For this the idea of many of the supporter of basic income say "one more right with other rights". This is the basic income we want

Anonymous avatar

Anonymous

May 15, 2018 at 14:43

Basic income proposal can be devided in two main approches. The first one, in the conservative and neoliberal perspective, is a tool of social control, highly conditioned and aimed to privatize public welfare (as argued by Friedman). From this point of view is a nightmare. The second approach, if basic income is totally unconditional, can be (together with others measures) a tool to reduce the degree of blackmail and foster the selfdetermination of our lives, especially in time of high precarity and increasing poverty. This is the idea of basic income we refer to.