There is now a growing band of politicians, entrepreneurs and policy strategists who argue that a basic income could potentially hold the solution to some of the big problems of our time. Some of these new converts have alighted upon the basic income as an answer to our fragmenting welfare state. They point to the increasingly precarious nature of today’s labour market for those in low-paid, low-skilled work: growing wage inequality, an increasing number of part-time and temporary jobs, and rogue employers routinely getting away with exploitative practices.
This grim reality collides with an increasingly punitive welfare state. Our welfare system was originally designed as a contributory system of unemployment insurance, in which workers put in during the good times, and took out during temporary periods of unemployment. But a big chunk of welfare spending now goes on permanently supporting people in jobs that don’t pay enough to support their families. As the contributory principle has been eroded, politicians have sought to create a new sense of legitimacy by loading the system with sanctions that dock jobseeker benefits for minor transgressions.