Sunday, August 26, 2007

Polly Toynbee - Hard Work

This prominent journalist used some time off from her usual occupation of writing for the Guardian newspaper, and lived in a semi-derelict block on a rough estate in South London, trying to live off any low paid job and whatever state benefits or charity help she could get. Her book Hard Work (Bloomsbury) is the outcome which showed the limitations of the state welfare tax-credit system which merely acts as a top-up for the wages of low paying employers. It also shows how the hallowed ‘free market’ in jobs which is supposed to be the ultimate encourager of labour mobility and self-help for the lowest paid is a sham. (See also this BLOG: New Paradigm in Economics, Aug). We are deluded by this false economic theory that condemns the poorest 30% of our society to a lifetime of servility and struggle, with few ways of escape.

But Toynbee can only point to ‘more of the same’ as a solution. She advocates encouraging trade union membership, pressure for a higher minimum wage and continued tax-credit welfare. However, her own findings deny their effectiveness: (a) union representation of the low-paid has been one of broad failure over the years (b) the 10% lowest paid in 1970 were better off then than now - they now get £164 whereas the 1970 equivalent should be £262 a week; and (c) tax credits are fiendishly complicated and many qualified do not claim them.

She should champion a Citizen’s Income, a non-withdrawable regular payment to every person, as of right. At one move this would (1) raise the average wage for those in work (2) enable people to cover the costs of looking for new, more fulfilling and better paid work (3) through the increase in economic power to workers, incentivise employers to train and look after their workers better and (4) enable workers to pay union subscriptions to press for better terms.

The Citizen’s Income Trust has much information as to how a new system is quite feasible financially. We already have the beginnings in the Child Benefit payment. Alaska pays an oil dividend to all citizens every year. Read The Free Lunch for more good news! The hardest work is opening closed minds. See , look at the cartoons.

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