RSA Basic Income: What’s in it for People with Disabilities?

By Gareth John

The Transhumanist Party UK recently welcomed a report by the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) with regard the argument for a Universal Basic Income in the UK.

First things first: I myself firmly support the principle of Basic Income and the RSA publication.

However, I am concerned that little mention has been made of how this would work for people with disabilities that preclude them from working.

Potato balancing

There are many references in the report to support for Carers and ‘care’ that I’ve taken the liberty to list here:

  • A Basic Income would help people care for their relatives, friends and neighbours without having to account for their actions to the state.
  • Basic Income allows people to more easily take time off, reduce their hours, or take short career breaks to care for an elderly, disabled or otherwise vulnerable person.
  • It mitigates or eliminates losses that particular groups might experience.
  • Carers currently receive financial support but it is a very bureaucratic system. These allowances are means-tested and rules bound (e.g. you have to care for at least 35 hours per week in order to receive it). For this reason, the benefit is under-claimed by almost £1bn per annum. Basic Income allows people to more easily take time off, reduce their hours, or take short career breaks to care for an elderly, disabled or otherwise vulnerable person. These needs will increase over coming decades so greater flexibility will be necessary. Basic Income is very helpful in this regard.
  • It also allows parents, carers, and learners to have a basic level of security to pursue their lives without interference.
  • Expressed in the terms of Jonathan Haidt’s moral foundations theory, the UK’s current needs-based system contains elements of care, reciprocal altruism, loyalty (to expressed community virtue), authority and sanctity.

The report does mention disability; however, aside from exempting it from the current proposals, it makes no reference as to how/what the implementation of Basic Income would mean for people with disabilities who are unable to work.Disabilities

Would things remain as they are? How would that reconcile itself with the broader proposals outlined here?

For reference, I’ve included the mentions made in the RSA report specifically about disability here:

  • Our proposal is based on the Citizen’s Income Trust 2012–13 scheme with some important fiscal adaptations. Housing and disability are not included in the model as a consequence.
  • From removing benefits, tax reliefs and allowances (excluding those relating to disability and housing), the Citizen’s Income Trust estimates total savings of £272bn.
  • As with the Citizen’s Income Trust47 proposal, the RSA Basic Income model outlined above excludes any reform of housing or council tax benefits (and, for the record, disability payments).

My concern is that ‘excluding’ disability payments from Basic Income will make for a more bureaucratic system rather than lessen it.

The current disability benefits in the UK include Incapacity Benefit (being phased out), Employment & Support Allowance which includes a contribution-based benefit, an income-based benefit, a work-related activity group where people with disabilities who ‘may’ be capable of work are mentored (some would say coerced) to ease the transition back into work together with the support group where the disability is regarded as so severe as to mean that this person is not fit for work and is unlikely to be for the foreseeable future. I myself am currently in this group. The report removes those of us with disabilities from the general conversation by glossing over what would happen to us and how we could benefit from the Basic Income.

This is further exacerbated by the somewhat conservative tone underlying the RSA report that again diminishes the role of people with disabilities in society:

  • This explains a recent increase in interest in the ‘contributory-principle’. In common parlance, this means that as you put more in you should get more out.
  • The demand is not for ‘more for more’ as contributory systems offer. It is for ‘less for less’ — a lower income for less contribution.

If things for people with disabilities are to remain as they are, Basic Income will do little to impact on our lives – even the incentives for Carers to have more flexibility for their caring duties makes little difference for those in need of constant care – and thus the RSA proposal does little to remove the social stigma and coercive nature of the current system.

Far from removing sanctions against those with disabilities, things will stay just as they are, in which case I fail to see how the following comment by the RSA re: Basic Income is any more progressive than where we’re at now:

  • These sanctions have led to demoralisation, deleterious mental health impacts, indebtedness, poverty, learners being removed from vocational courses close to their completion and an expansion of food banks. What began as an exercise in reciprocal altruism – where benefits apply only to those who ‘contribute’ – has become inhumane.

I realise that the report is excluding ‘disability and housing’ in order to put forward the basic tenets of Basic Income without overly-complicating things at this stage. However, as a person with a long-term severe mental health disability which has led to me losing my job and in all likelihood remaining unemployed for the foreseeable future, I have to admit that the report does make me feel marginalised rather than empowered.

Just to be clear – I do support Basic Income and believe it is the best way forward morally and with regard to the massive social changes emerging technologies will bring to the marketplace.

I just wish the RSA had had more to say about how Basic Income will affect people with disabilities rather than excluding them from the proposal, even at this early stage. Things as they are now for people like me also need to change. We’re just not being told how.

Any comments/opinions welcomed.

Gareth JohnAbout the author

Gareth John is a technoprogressive transhumanist ex-Buddhist priest fascinated by how people perceive, interpret, respond, and interact in an increasingly media rich world. His interests include ethics and emerging technologies, personality types in cyberspace, transhumanism, cyberpunk culture, philosophy, Zen. A psychotherapist in training, he Lives with bipolar disorder.

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