Recently, the city of Utrecht initiated a new idea: everybody gets a basic, minimal income, no matter their social situation (working/non-working) or their initial income. What you earn comes on top of that.
The idea has been around for a while. The principles behind it are pretty simple: equality. You get a basic income so that you can live in this world and afford the basic, necessary things. After that, if you want something beyond what is strictly necessary, you have to work or find a way to get more money. In other words, we do not let people die in the streets but this is their own choice to decide if they want to do more. Want to have kids? Do not rely on the welfare system, get a job and make sure you can afford education, food and housing. Want to buy a nice house? Do not rely on the welfare system and start saving now. On the other hand, when hard times hit you, you still have something so that you are not dying in the streets.
If you argue this is giving charity and getting people lazy, you are doing a mistake. With a basic income at 900€ in the Netherlands, you can afford nothing but very basic things (see this estimate for a monthly budget for a student …). With that, you will live alone in a one bedroom apartment in the country side, cannot have a car and will just be able to eat and stay at home. Going out is very unlikely and the only restaurant you might be able to afford would be McDonalds. So, really nothing fancy but at least, it can help you when you are unemployed for few months.
Opponents to this idea argue that the basic would cost a lot. But considering how much it costs to give and manage the welfare system, the city of Utrecht has shown that it is in fact, it would be cheaper than maintaining the existing system.Looking at the numbers reported by the guardian: the city of Nijmegen gives £88m but it costs about £15m to just manage the welfare system. With that cost in mind, can we consider this system efficient? Giving a basic income would reduce the welfare management while ensuring a basic, simple and fair rule for everybody: no matter where you live, who you are, you have a basic income.
But beyond the debate about giving charity to everybody, this idea of a minimal wage highlight some questions we need to address as a society. The employment landscape changed a lot over the last years: we no longer work in the same company all our life, there will be always some unemployment periods, you might take a break at some point. The required skills of the workforce also changed and people needs to train, to adapt. We no longer have the same work all our life, and, as we live longer, we can expect changes. And more simply, there might not be enough work for everybody and unemployment might be something we cannot avoid. So do we really need to work every day of our life? If not, how can we still offer a decent way to live for everybody in this world?
So, when looking at what happened over the last years and what is coming (more automation, no need to be physically in a company, etc.) is it necessary to maintain the current welfare system, especially considering its overhead and limitations? How can we make sure everybody can live decently and afford the basics? The idea of a basic income might be a good solution, more efficient and fair than what the patches introduced by what seems to be an outdated welfare system.