by Alessandro Valera
1. Where does the discourse on basic income come from?
Work and labour have undergone profound changes since the 1990s. Particularly, Europe witnessed the end offordist labour relations, in which workers would find, after a period of free and stardardised education, a job for life. This job would accompany most workers until they would retire, guaranteeing a certain degree of protection in case of illness, pregnancy or accident. The cost of retiring would be paid off by the taxes on labour paid by workers as well as employers throughout the 30 or so years of continuous labour within the same company or at least within the same sector. This model worked for a few decades of economic boom, demographic structures by which a large number of workers would maintain a smaller pool of retired people, and in which Western Europe faced little economic competition from a poor “third world” and no competition from a socialist “second world”. With the fall of communism, economic globalisations and change in demographic patterns, this model became unsustainable and most countries took steps in liberalising labour, by creating flexibility, in particular in terms of relations between employers and employees. Work became a commodity, used to maximise profit and to be disposed of as soon as it became unnecessary. Young people first, and increasingly large parts of society, had to accept jobs without rules, without protection which contributed to create precarious working conditions, and therefore precarious living conditions (i.e. precarity). The idea of basic income comes from this historical prospective: if labour is no longer able to guarantee welfare to workers and their families, a shift needs to be made by which a minimum level of welfare becomes a human right to which citizens (or residents) of one country should be entitled to, irrespective of their working situation.
2. Wouldn’t a basic income policy discourage people to actually seek work, if they can be paid for doing nothing?
Basic income is usually implemented by calculating a poverty threshold, under which a person cannot meet a dignifying standard of life. Anyone who cannot reach this level, through work or other benefits, is paid the remaining quota through a monthly cheque. Although basic income thresholds reach up to 1200 euro a month in countries such as Denmark or Luxemburg, usually they are kept sufficiently high to meet the basic needs of a person, but sufficiently low to encourage most people to actively look for work to improve their welfare.
Furthermore, a basic income policy would put workers, and especially precarious workers who are not backed by collective bargaining nor by trade unions, in the position to choose an adequate position without being blackmailed by their employers. This, in turn, is likely to have a positive impact on the economy overall. A guaranteed minimum income would reduce the amount of people who would accept a low-paid, alienating and tiring job and thus leaving employers to face a stark choice: either to increase the salary for these jobs or to invest in technologies and organisational models that are more efficient or more modern. A basic income would also foster entrepreneurship. More people would consider starting a business if they could be covered by a form of income in the first few months or year in which the business would slowly take off and possibly not provide enough income for the entrepreneur.
3. How can European countries, hit by sovereign debt, afford to pay benefits to all those who would qualify for basic income provisions?
Basic income provisions would absorb several forms of benefits that already exist (incapacity benefits, unemployment benefits etc) while cutting the costs relating to excessive bureaucracy related to management and check of the different benefits. Nevertheless it would imply a cost for the state that should raise more taxes or cut other services to make this provision affordable. As described above, however, changes in the labour market have gone hand in hand with changes to the economic and financial market. At the moment, the state taxes its citizens by taxing mostly labour (income taxes) or consumption (VAT). With gini- coefficients mirroring the polarisation all across Europe between a shrinking middle class and the strengthening of a small number of super rich, taxation could also change from labour to possession, tackling those owning large assets, land or luxury goods. Even more simply, taxing financial transactions, as it has been advocated for decades, for as low as 0.01% would raise sufficient funds for basic income. Cutting privileges enjoyed by the political elite or of certain religious groups, could also contribute to the cost of a universal basic income provision, as would putting in place radical anti-evasion measures. The message is clear: what is lacking are not possible sources of financing basic income, but political keenness. By implementing changes such as the ones afore-mentioned (or many others) sufficient funds could be secured.
4. How much should be paid monthly to those entitled to receive basic income?
5. What is the relationship between basic income and gender?
The welfare state that dominated in Europe from the end of War War II until basic income was introduced was one in which the family would be the basic unit of welfare, rather than the individual. Often, women would not be engaged in formal labour and confined to domestic and childcare work, and be supported by their working husbands. The welfare system was created in such a way that workers benefits would cover for their partner and children. Women were therefore largely subordinated to the employment conditions of their husband, who could actually have had the time to be outside of the house for 8 hours a day thanks to the unpaid work his wife would be doing in the household. A system of basic income, based on each individual (over the age of 18 in most cases) and not on each family, gives men and women in society more equal role. Unpaid work like childcare is therefore recognised by the state as an occupation worth receiving at least the support of a basic income. Even for women who do not have children or are not married, basic income would increase their autonomy and the economical independence. It must be said that feminist critique on basic income is large and not all studies celebrate basic income as a policy to empower women. However, most agree that moving from a family-based to a citizen-based form of welfare would improve equality between men and women.
6. Who would receive a basic income? Would rich people also receive one?
This varies among different models of basic income, but the main difference with other forms of welfare is that this is largely individually based, not family-based. Each citizen over the age of 18 (in some cases 16, in others 21) who does not have an income above the established monthly threshold, will receive a benefit from the state, or one of its regions, to elevate them to at least that level of income. Some argue that a universal income should be given to everyone, irrespectively of their wealth. So, if €700 per month is established as the threshold, everyone should receive that amount by the state, whether they earn nothing or a million. Most policies however (and the ones European Alternatives stands for) would not provide for this, but rather cover only those individuals who do not reach a minimum income to conduct a dignified life.
7. Wouldn’t the basic income discriminate against migrants and other non-citizens?
No. In fact the term citizenship income has been replaced in most case with basic incometo avoid this misunderstanding. All citizens as well as those resident in a territory would be entitled to this benefit. Of course this would not cover illegal migrants which, by definition, are not registered in a country. So, it could be argued that this is a form of discrimination, but in our opinion it is not the basic income that discriminates, but migration and residence policies.
8. Isn’t basic income a right-wing idea to reduce the welfare state?
The welfare state as it was created in Europe no longer fits the need of all of those living in Europe. Basic income does not cancel existing welfare benefits to those who are entitled to them. For those who have contracts that cover maternity leave, extensive sickness leave or job loss, their benefits will remain- if higher than the established threshold. However, for the millions of (especially young and especially female) people who do not enjoy contracts with those benefits, basic income will supply a welfare detached from labour and therefore more inclusive.
9. What impact would a basic income have on the relationship between employer and employee?
The employee would gain freedom to be blackmailed by its employer. In countries where minimum wage does not exist (or where the minimum wage is very low), workers are often forced to accept extremely low-paid jobs with no benefits because of lack of alternatives. Introducing a basic income would reduce the supply of people who would accept low-paid or alienating jobs without being paid more for these jobs. Today these workers are blackmailed into accepting low-salaries and poor conditions with the threat of non- renewal of a temporary contract. Basic income (together with a minimum wage and better working and contractual conditions) would make workers stronger and less at risk to be blackmailed. They would be able to ask for an improvement of their own working conditions and their contracts.
In terms of employers-led benefits, they would continue to exist, and employers would continue to pay into pension funds or to contribute to sick and maternity leave when these are in place. For precarious or atypical workers, however, basic income would be the only source of income, regardless of their employer status.
10. Will someone on basic income be required to accept a job offer or face removal of that income?
This is the most divisive of issues among those advocating a basic income. Those in favour of an unconditional income would want income to be given by the state until a person has found a source of income that satisfies them (through a motivating job). Others find reasonable for the state to require that those receiving basic income (and not engaged in studying, volunteering or family care) should work with an employment agent and accept a job that is offered to them, given that it is in line with their professional or academic experience, that it offers a salary which is the same or higher as the previous occupation and that is located within a reasonable distance from their dwelling. If a job was refused then, the basic income provision would cease.
Many people advocating a basic income advocate it to be unconnected to the question of work or other income (‘unconditional’). This implies that it should not be conditional on accepting a job (but low enough to encourage people to look for work). Also many people think that the income should be given to everyone irrespective of their wealth – and then returned to the state by higher taxation for those people that can afford to pay. This is based on the principle that everyone has an interest in defending a universal right, thus promoting social cohesion.
Regione Lazio (2009) Reddito Garantito e Nuovi Diritti Sociali Rome:Beniamini Group
Rey Pérez, J.L. (2004) A New Gender Perspective for Basic Income Paper presented at the BIEN Congress: “The Right to a Basic Income. Egalitarian Democracy”. Barcelona 18-21 September 2004
San Precario (2012) Faq sul reddito di base: risponde San Precario Available online at