Basic Income: panacea or pipe dream? – Anti-Poverty Week forum

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Paul Blacklow, Shelley Mallett, and Alexis Wadsley at the Basic Income: panacea or pipe dream? forum.

Could a Basic Income be a solution to poverty?

As part of Anti-Poverty Week for 2017, Anglicare’s Social Action and Research Centre partnered with the Economics Society of Australia and the Institute for the Study of Social Change this week to discuss just that.

Hundreds of people gathered for the Basic Income: Panacea of Pipe Dream? forum as a panel of economists and social policy experts explored what a basic income could look like, how it could be rolled out, and how the rise of technology was pushing employees out of the workforce.

The introduction of a basic income would see each member of society given a periodic cash payment, regardless of their personal circumstances.

Brotherhood of St Laurence policy and research manager Shelley Mallett flew from Victoria for the forum and said the idea of introducing a basic income was more complex than it seemed.

Professor Mallett said there were three different objectives to consider when it came to a basic income – if it would reduce the current stigma surrounding welfare payments, if it would simplify the system, and if it would give Australians a basic level of economic security.

“In our current employment environment, the impact might be an improvement to health and well-being if variable income is smoothed out,” she said.

“A universal basic income could remove stigma that is currently associated with receiving some government benefits.”

Operating our current social welfare system comes at a significant cost.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, in 2015–16, the federal, state and territory government expenditure on welfare was $157.2 billion, up $40 billion from 2006–07.

An unconditional Basic Income provided to every adult would be much simpler to administer.

Economics Society of Australia’s Alexis Wadsley said the social and emotional benefits of simplifying the system would also need to be considered when introducing a basic income.

Dr Wadsley said currently, people were often being penalised for working because their benefits were taken away when they earned above a certain threshold.

“The primary test associated with our welfare system is one of what is your income and your assets,” he said.

“A welfare system is a form of basic income, but then the question is, what have we wrapped around that which makes it different from what you think of as an efficient or perfect basic income system.”

University of Tasmania economics lecturer Paul Blacklow said a basic income may mean a growth in regional economies, and a shift in the way jobs are regarded, with traditionally lower paying jobs potentially becoming more esteemed.

Dr Blacklow said if a basic income was offered, unattractive jobs would have to introduce a higher wage to attract staff, going on to boost society’s view these jobs.

With an almost fully-booked forum at the University of Tasmania, audience members posed thought-out and engaging questions throughout the evening, including questions on the decentralisation of the workforce, working hours and an income for artists.

The Basic Income: Panacea or Pipe Dream? forum was an engaging, insightful, and thought-provoking look at Australia's welfare system and economy. About 165 people made an appearance, with many asking fantastic questions about whether a basic income could be the solution to poverty.This marked the second annual Anti-Poverty Week event in partnership with the Economic Society Tasmania and the Institute for the Study of Social Change. Read more:

Posted by Social Action and Research Centre on Wednesday, 18 October 2017

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