Poynted remarks

IssueDecember 2023 - January 2024
Comment by Claire Poyner

Readers may have noticed that I am no longer PN administrator. So, how’s retirement? Thanks for asking! OK so far, not bored yet.

I now have plenty of spare time to indulge in a little art appreciation, organised by the Mary Ward Centre in London. A little group of us go round small art galleries; from tiny ones in posh places like Mayfair (which I would never have thought of visiting because, frankly, they do look a bit intimidating) to the community- or charity-run galleries such as the excellent South London Gallery. We then talk about art, possibly over a cuppa or a sandwich lunch.

I’ve just done a once-a-week walk for eight weeks, on the history of the West End, which was very interesting.

I’ve been recruited as a trustee of CND’s charitable wing, the Nuclear Education Trust; they want me to deal with updating the website. I can do that!

I’m still on the Peace News Trustees board, as well as the Housmans board. I’m thinking of volunteering for one or more of the organisations I support. (Wildlife Trust? Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom UK?)

And, I admit, I have had a couple of extra holidays this year which I would not have found time for, even working part-time.

The point I am making here is: why are we all working so much? OK, so the UK is about halfway down the list of European countries average in terms of working hours in a main job.* Balkan countries seem to work the longest hours. Most of the countries with a shorter working week seem to regularly come in the lists of ‘happiest population’ or similar. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Remember back in the day when computers started to spread? It was assumed that computers could take on some of the tasks, so we’d all end up working fewer hours.

Now, of course, it’s assumed that AI would take over some of the less satisfying jobs (or even, worryingly, some of the nicer jobs). Will that work out the same as increased use of computers has?

In the meantime, people still have to eat, pay rent, support families. I have a state pension (and a small NHS pension) – what will younger people have? And when can they retire? And will there by any jobs by then anyway?

If there are fewer jobs, how can we justify fewer people working longer hours?

So, people who don’t have inherited wealth will still need a regular input of cash, whether they are working outside the home or not.

Which brings me to the idea of a Citizen’s Basic Income. An unconditional, nonwithdrawable income paid to every individual as a right of citizenship.**

This is very popular in some circles. It’s Green Party policy.

Discussing this with a friend, she complained: ‘Why should I go to work while others lounge about on free money?’ I said she could do the same if she wished, but that her salary would be on top of the Citizen’s Income and that if she wanted four holidays a year and a slap-up Christmas she would probably have to continue working, at least part-time. But also that, if she lost her job, or was unable to work due to health, she would not have to wait five weeks for Income Support to kick in – and the Citizen’s Income would not be withdrawn as soon as she started work again.

That last point is important. Suppose you’re on benefits and find a job? How long before you get paid? With a Citizen’s Income, people will always be better off with a job and won’t be penalised for working.

Citizen’s Income would allow people to take on temporary, casual or freelance work. It would enable people to start up a band, write their novel, paint their masterpiece. In the days when young people could sign on then do their thing without having to spend 36 hours a week ‘job hunting’, the arts in the UK were booming.

Importantly, a Citizen’s Income would be cheaper to administer than means-tested benefits, and would help ensure dignity and human rights: the acknowledgement of everyone’s right not to be destitute. Government and the general public will need some persuasion.

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