Shadow Home Secretary John McDonald has proposed giving everyone in the country the sum of £41 – £61 a week simply for existing. And as usual, a lot of people’s reaction has been: How dare he? If anyone tries to give me money, I will spit in their eye.
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The idea of universally giving every citizen a basic amount of money to live on regardless of whether they work or not, or a Universal Basic Income (UBI) if you will, has apparently been around for centuries (who knew?), but until fairly recently even the mention of such a thing would have seen you laughed out of Parliament. Now, however, the idea is starting to be taken seriously and has been trialled on a small scale in a number of different countries.
A study in Alaska showed that people who were given a UBI didn’t just pack in their job and sit at home watching Countdown, but overwhelmingly used the money productively to pay for further education or embark on crazy business endeavours. It also allowed people to work less, freeing up time to do other important “jobs” that aren’t necessary paid, such as looking after relatives, or doing voluntary work.
Sounds pretty good, does it not? So why are so many people against the idea? Well, I’m sure you kind of already know. We claim to live in a post-ideological age where you are free to do, think and be anything you like. I for one subscribe to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and you can’t stop me, it’s my belief system.
But there is one ideology that is so pervasive that we tend not to even notice it. And that’s the ideology of work. Whether you agree with it or not, it’s hard – even in your own head – to argue with the idea that handouts make you lazy, one shouldn’t get something for nothing, and everyone has to work.
Although, when you break it down, it’s not actually work or even employment that bothers us, it’s, as Lil Wayne would put it: “the almighty dollar”. If you make money in any way, be it as a firefighter or arms dealer, or you simply have money because you’re a student or the Queen of England then people tend to leave you alone and your self-esteem tends to take care of itself too. You are independent, as they say.
However, if you find yourself, for whatever reason, in a position where you need to ask someone for money, suddenly you feel the whole weight of this powerful ideology bearing down on you, and dark psychological forces start oozing out of the woodwork. Even if you know on an intellectual level that we are going through a recession and that statistically you are more likely to be out of work, there is still something horribly personal about it all.
It’s a mentality that is drilled into us and it’s not logical nor self-serving. For work comes in many different forms. There are a lot of important “jobs” such as caring for family members or doing community work, which in our society are relegated to pastime pursuits simply because they are unprofitable. It leads to this bizarre state of affairs in which trying to scam an elderly lady into upgrading her TV package is seen as a more respectable occupation than caring for her; because the former can on occasion be profitable, while the latter may involve getting a handout from the Government …like a spoiled child.
Anyway, I better get back to that telesales job or shitty office job or whatever it is I do.