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Exploring basic income

The current income support system in Australia is a poverty trap according to key organisations including Anglicare – but is a basic income for every citizen a viable alternative?

Part of a ten dollar note with the words Basic Income - Panacea or Pipe Dream?Last week, Anglicare Australia, Mission Australia, and the St Vincent de Paul Society called on the Federal Government to recognise that Newstart and Youth Allowance payments were not enough to cover the cost of living.

In Australia, 2.5 million people now live in poverty and the gap between rich and poor continues to widen.

 “Due to a lack of available jobs, people are becoming stuck on insufficient payments for long periods and are becoming entrenched in poverty,” said Meg Webb, from Anglicare Tasmania’s Social Action and Research Centre. “It’s clear that something needs to change”.

One idea is the introduction of a basic income – an initiative currently being trialled in other parts of the world. Basic income will be the topic of conversation at a special event being held for Anti-Poverty Week (October 15-21).

The event – open to the general public – will feature a panel discussion involving the Tasmanian Branch of the Economic Society of Australia, the Institute for the Study of Social Change, the Brotherhood of St Laurence and Anglicare’s Social Action and Research Centre.

 “The issue we’ll explore is that instead of the existing social security system, the government would pay a basic income to every Australian citizen,” said Meg. “This would be enough to cover the basic cost of living and there would be no mutual obligation or activity requirement attached to receiving the money”.

“In theory, the idea is that a basic income would enable everyone to live a life of dignity, with their essential costs met”.

The panel discussion Basic Income: panacea or pipe dream? will be moderated by Meg and feature Professor Shelley Mallett (Brotherhood of St Laurence), Dr Paul Blacklow (University of Tasmania) and Dr Alexis Wadsley (Economic Society of Australia).

“Basic income is a concept worth exploring because the nature of work is changing,” said Meg. “Job-seekers now outnumber available jobs by six to one”.

The panel will discuss whether Australia could afford to replace the existing system with a basic income model.

“Our current welfare system, which is targeted and includes complex mutual obligation and activity requirements, is costly and requires an enormous bureaucracy to run,” said Meg. “Could a basic income model achieve better outcomes and be less expensive?”

“The panel will also discuss whether giving people enough money to basically live on could take away their incentive to work,” said Meg. “But there’s another line of thought that says freeing people up from the need to do so much paid work may allow them to spend time on other worthwhile activities – creative pursuits, innovation, entrepreneurial ideas and volunteering”.

There are currently a number of trial basic income programs taking place in the Netherlands, Finland, Canada and the USA.  “It will be interesting to see what we can learn from these trials,” said Meg. “Our panel conversation will raise questions about the practicality of the idea, the political appetite to make such a radical change, and the unintended consequences there might be from this kind of model”.

The panel discussion will take place on Tuesday October 17 from 6 pm -7.30 pm at the Centenary Theatre, Sandy Bay campus of the University of Tasmania. Refreshments will be served in the foyer from 5:30pm. Register here to attend this free event.

If you're interested