A Universal Basic Income, for those of you who don’t know, is a policy idea which would see the Government giving everybody in the country a guaranteed baseline amount of money every month, regardless of their financial circumstances. No matter who you are, you get a fixed amount of income every month from the Government.
The Green Party is now proposing a Universal Basic Income for Ireland. Except, it’s not really a universal basic income at all:
A radical plan that would see artists receive a weekly state payment on top of which they could earn additional income is expected to be discussed by ministers this week.
The proposal is one of a number of recommendations in a report by the Arts and Culture Recovery Taskforce, which is due to be brought to cabinet by Catherine Martin, the Arts and Culture Minister, on Tuesday.
Among its proposals is a three-year pilot of a “universal basic income” (UBI) for the arts, culture, audio visual and live performance sectors.
UBI is an unconditional state payment which is designed to provide recipients with enough money to cover the basic cost of living and provide them with a degree of financial security.
Unlike standard unemployment payments, a universal basic income continues to be paid even if the recipient secures work. Any earned income is additional to the UBI and is subject to tax as normal.
Firstly, it is not a universal basic income if only one group in society is getting it. It is most assuredly not a universal basic income when a millionaire like Bono is entitled to receive it, but a homeless single parent is not.
Second, why artists? Artists already receive substantial benefits that nobody else in society get. See that line in bold, which we’ve highlighted? The one that says “any earned income is additional to the UBI and subject to tax as normal”?
Normal, for an artist, is zero. The Irish Government exempts artists from income tax on any and all income earned from their work as an artist.
So not only does this proposal propose to give artists free money, it also proposes to continue taxing their earnings at zero.
How can this be justified at a time of grave financial strain on the Government, and during a pandemic which came in the middle of a pre-existing housing crisis?
There will be those, of course, who accuse me of being a troglodyte who doesn’t recognise the vital role played by artists and the arts in keeping the national spirit up, or recognise the unique challenges faced by artists at a time when much of the hospitality and entertainment sectors have been shut down. And that’s partly untrue.
The role that artists play is, without question, important. But their sector does not face unique challenges. Where is the UBI for the publicans, who play an equally important role? Where is the UBI for the Gym owners, or the people who work in cinemas (who are, incidentally, in their own way, employees of the arts sector)?
No other group gets the pre-existing benefits doled out to artists as it is. If anybody else in Ireland refuses to pay income tax, they face prosecution.
And even if we accept the need for financial support for struggling artists, what possible justification is there for making it universal within the sector? A struggling trad musician who makes a living in the pubs of the west of Ireland is not in the same situation as a recording artist who sells their work through a record label, or a successful screen actress. Amy Huberman is not in the same financial boat as a wedding singer.
Giving Amy Huberman, or Bono, or Christy Moore five or six hundred euros a month for nothing is an appalling use of public money.
As Green Party ideas go, this one is up there with re-introducing wolves, making ten families share a car, and most of their manifesto. Absolutely nuts.