The notion of a universal basic income (UBI) is gaining increasingly favourable attention from both the the left and right of politics. Small and seemingly favourable trials have occurred in some countries. To find out more about UBI I spoke with Dr Ben Spies-Butcher who lectures in Economy and Society in the Department of Sociology at Macquarie University. Ben’s research focuses on the political economy of social policy.
In addition to his academic publications, Ben is a regular contributor to The Conversation. He is also a Research Associate at the Retirement Policy and Research Centre at the University of Auckland, and is a board member of Shelter NSW. He was also the 2017 Glenda Powell National Travelling Fellow for the Australian Association of Gerontology. Ben has written elsewhere that,
Unemployment benefits in Australia have gradually fallen behind the cost of living. The benefit, currently called the Newstart Allowance, is now one of the lowest in the OECD.
This makes it hard to effectively look for work, with devastating consequences for those relying on it. Even business economists have argued it needs to be raised.
Despite this, governments have moved in the opposite direction, shifting more people onto lower and highly conditional payments. This reflects the politics of payments that are very highly targeted.
Our conversation explores the idea of UBI and its relationship to work and social welfare.
Why are we all working so hard when automation was supposed to increase leisure time?
How has the state intervened in regulating both the paid and the unpaid economy?
Why has surveillance and compliance become such a central part of so many people’s work experience?
Why has pay day lending become so profitable? Why does household debt continue to rise?
If there was a UBI would we all just go to the beach and play computer games? Or would it reinvigorate democratic engagement and empower people to leave bad jobs?
How do we convince regional and rural Australians that punitive notions of ‘workfare’ are destructive to our social fabric?