Money for nothing - conference hears universal payment could solve social issues

Proponents believe a weekly payment of €150 to all citizens could solve social and employment issues as the workplace continues to evolve

Money for nothing - conference hears universal payment could solve social issues

A payslip displaying tax deductions alongside 50 euro notes | Image: Brian Lawless / PA Archive/Press Association Images

A basic income for everyone in the state - regardless of whether they are at work - has been put forward as a solution to welfare and employment problems in Ireland.

The latest CSO figures show Irish employment is at an eight year high; however critics are concerned that many modern jobs are failing to provide enough to live on.

A conference in Dublin has heard that a state payment of €150 a week to every Irish person, without any means test or work requirement, would be enough to live a “frugal but decent” lifestyle.

The Social Policy Conference in Croke Park heard there are a number of ways the scheme could be implemented and costed.

Speakers provided details of upcoming experiments in the Netherlands and Finland which will test whether the concept can work.

In January next year, 250 Dutch citizens will receive a flat sum of €960 a month, as well as an extra €150 if they carry out community volunteer services.

The system is seen as a possible replacement for the country’s welfare system, which the project organisers believe is wasting money and failing to help its beneficiaries.

In Finland, a pilot project will see a randomly selected group of between 2,000 and 3,000 citizens - who are already receiving benefits - given a monthly basic income of €560.

The study will run for two years and aims to assess whether basic income can help reduce poverty, social exclusion, and bureaucracy - while actually increasing the employment rate.  

This morning’s conference in Dublin was organised by independent think tank, Social Justice Ireland (SJI).

The group’s director, Fr Seán Healy said the concept can provide the key to dealing with widespread changes in welfare and work practices in the twenty first century.

One option put forward this morning would see €150 a week paid to everyone of working age in Ireland, with a top-up of €38 a week for those actively seeking work.

Older residents would receive a higher payment - equivalent to the contributory old-age pension.

The system would also include a payment for all children equivalent to the level of Child Benefit and would be combined with a Social Solidarity Fund to cover special needs.

The working population would also receive the payment - although it would replace tax credits.

Proponents of the scheme said it could eliminate the majority of the current welfare system and could be financed by a flat tax of 40% and a “slight increase” in employer’s PRSI.

Dr Healy said the concept has the potential to reduce bureaucracy and increase respect for carers, while also promoting entrepreneurship:

The conference heard of a number of different ways to implement some form of basic income - including changing personal tax credits into a cash payment for all adults.

Michael Taft of Unite the Union said this approach could provide everyone with a payment of €3,300 per year and would require no changes in the tax or welfare systems.

A third approach, presented at the conference by Ronan Lyons of Trinity College, would see a Partial Basic Income introduced as a universal housing subsidy.

The concept is seen as a way to drive entrepreneurship as the global work-force moves towards greater automation.

A number of high profile tech entrepreneurs - including Tesla founder Elon Musk and Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes - have recently come out in support of the idea.