Universal income: the word to the first concerned, all of us!

“The world will only move with passionate people and it is not by letting some of them in a situation of poverty that we will help its creation”. And if that was exactly the idea of a “universal income”?, thus giving everyone the opportunity to create and find a meaning of their existence beyond work? On 7th June 2018, the second day of the International Forum for Well-being, the International Movement ATD Fourth World organized a workshop which was open to those concerned by the possibility of a universal income: everyone!

The participants, namely members of associations, social workers and people experiencing poverty, were there to learn more about universal income and, especially, to debate and think about a new societal model where everyone could decently live. The debate was planned in an original way: everyone was standing and moving in the room according to his/her opinions. This methodology made the exchange very lively!

The struggle to define what universal income is..

First of all, the workshop started with a simple, but actually the toughest, question: What is universal income? Indeed, there are many ways to define it.

Today, in many countries, regions of the world, and communities, we discuss the implementation of a universal income. For some, it should be given to the poorest in order to enable them escaping their precarious situation. Thus, this income would be conditioned by one’s person level of wealth.

Others think that it is something universal and unconditional. But, even in a universalistic conception, there are different currents of thought. In France, for example, on the right-wing of the political spectrum, people think about setting up a universal income of around 400-500 euros per month. With the introduction of this income, we could then eliminate social welfare, public services including free care and education. Thus, the universal income would regroup social welfare that already exists, under another name.

For others, universal income must be of at least 1000 euros, without removing social welfare. This income must be thought of as something that allows those who want it to free themselves from work. Indeed, some opponents to the universal income think that people would stop working ending up doing nothing. For example, some participants at the workshop protested against such a measure, “It is not possible, people will drag in the streets and it will increase the violence and insecurity!”.

However, the idea is to give more space to other activities, such as volunteering and art. For instance, one of the participants stopped working a few years ago to build, with his wife, a self-managed community that helps people at the margins of society to restore themselves. A universal income would allow him to continue doing this without having to always look for fundings. Moreover, universal income could be rethought in a feminist way. A woman emphasized the importance for women to be independent and this will allow them to emancipate themselves from their husbands.
Thus, the first difficulty in setting up a universal income lies in its definition: how to implement it? How much? How to deal with financing?

Should a universal income be necessarily a monetary measure?

Another problem raised by several participants was the risk of inflation. Indeed, if we increase everyone’s standard of living, prices will also rise. So, what is exactly the point of it? For this reason, several people suggested another way to implement the measure. “The currency generates misery – explained one of the participants, that is why we must get out of this system where money is “The King”. For example, we could distribute vouchers to people to have free housing, food, electricity, water. Well-being and happiness are not measurable with money”.

On that point, a woman who experiences poverty since a long time didn’t agree. She said that poor people need money to change their lives as well as a job since work is central in our society. That is, maybe, one of the biggest challenges of the universal income: we are actually thinking about it in our society and according to our current way of thinking.
Therefore, it is difficult to think of a perfect universal income which would suit everyone and immediately. Eventually, everyone has agreed on one point: in order to find the best model for us, we have to experiment it! Indeed, the important thing is not to discuss for years about how to implement the measure, but rather to test models, see what works and what does not to then find a fair and sustainable “universal income formula”.

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