John Harris

Journalist & Author

Archive for April, 2016

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Should we scrap benefits and pay everyone £100 a week?

Thursday, April 14th, 2016

The idea of a universal basic income is about to leap from the margins to the mainstream, bringing promises of a happier and healthier population

Imagine a Britain where the government pays every adult the basic cost of living. Whether rich or poor – or, crucially, whether you’re in paid employment or not – everyone gets the same weekly amount, with no strings attached. The harsh, punitive model of modern “welfare” is a distant memory; passing in and out of employment in the so-called gig economy is now something everyone can afford. The positive consequences extend into the distance: women are newly financially independent and able to exit abusive relationships, public health is noticeably improved, and people are able to devote the time to caring that an ever-ageing society increasingly demands. All the political parties are signed up: just as the welfare state underpinned the 20th century, so this new idea defines the 21st.

Welcome to the world of a unconditional basic income, or UBI, otherwise known as citizens’ income or social wage. It might look like the stuff of insane utopianism, but the idea is now spreading at speed, from the fringes of the left into mainstream politics – and being tried out around the world. The UK Green party has supported the notion for decades: staunch backing for a version of UBI was one of its key themes at the last election. At its spring conference last month, the Scottish National party passed a motion supporting the idea that “a basic or universal income can potentially provide a foundation to eradicate poverty, make work pay and ensure all our citizens can live in dignity”. A handful of Labour MPs have started to come round to the idea – and serious work is being done among thinktanks and pressure groups, looking at how it might work in the here and now.

The idea of UBI has been around for years, voiced by such people as Thomas Paine, Martin Luther King and Milton Friedman

Related: A no-strings basic income? If it works for the royal family, it can work for us all | John O’Farrell

What was really interesting was the wider benefits of UBI, in terms of health, education and mental health

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Cameron’s admission is a sudden insight into what the Tories stand for | John Harris

Friday, April 8th, 2016

They claim it’s compassionate but these leaks show that Conservatism’s main concern is for the moneyed elites

Every so often, the presentational masks acquired down the years by British conservatism slip. If only for a moment, the supposed convictions Tory politicians bang on about are reduced to mere window dressing, and what cynical old lefties tend to talk about as the venal pursuit of class interests suddenly looks like a matter of unanswerable fact. In UK terms, this might be the political meaning of the Panama Papers and David Cameron’s woefully belated admission that he did benefit from his father’s offshore activities. In a season of Tory nightmares and whatever the knock-on effect for the Labour party, the upshot is a sudden and sobering look at what the Tories might actually stand for.

Related: Ten questions the prime minister has to answer about the Panama files

Cameron and Osborne’s supposedly exacting approach to public finances obviously had its limits

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