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Free money? Where do I sign!

Some time ago I wrote about a concept referred to as a “universal basic income”. A universal basic income (or UBI for short) is a payment made to adult individuals that allows people to meet their basic needs. It would be a payment made without the requirement for work or any other income tests. In short, the money would be paid to you unconditionally, whether you work for it or not and whether you need it or not.

The idea of a UBI is not new, but in recent decades it has been pushed to the fringes of policy debate. Since it fell off the agenda in the late 1970’s, UBI and similar schemes have been the domain of a small network of social and environmental activists. However, in the last few years, things have changed dramatically. Debates over basic income proposals have moved from the fringe to the mainstream, particularly in a financially COVID-damaged world.

Though proponents of the scheme believe it would aid those people who fall into the long-term unemployed category (and those deemed unemployable), others warn of its high cost, negative impact on work incentives and that fact it wastes financial resources on the rich who, aside from not needing it, have less of a propensity to spend it.

It is an undeniable truth that COVID-19 has ravaged the domestic employment market. While accurate predictions are difficult to make, the Grattan Institute estimates that 14 to 26% of Australian workers could lose their jobs as a result of the pandemic, with unemployment rates remaining high for years to come. While the Morrison Government has done its best to shield impoverished workers from the financial fallout, the reality is that our welfare system was never designed for such an event.

Professor James Ferguson argues that we must move away from the idea of human survival being dependent on waged labour and towards the idea of a “rightful share” – with citizens each having a right to an income based on a share of ownership in national wealth. Australia’s United Workers Union has recently advocated for a UBI of $740.00 per week (equivalent to the minimum wage), with the scheme thereby allowing the replacement of some welfare programs. The cost though, is enormous. Taking into account that 7.65 million Australians would be eligible (ie those aged between 18 and 65), the cost over just six months would be $55 billion. However, that figure may be offset by the fact the UBI is taxable and certain welfare schemes would be suspended. Still, the figure would represent a significant portion of the country’s Gross Domestic Product and may then affect other social spending on health and education.

The question that concerns us is: is it Biblical? My view is no, for a number of reasons.

1. Firstly, we were designed to work. God designed work in order to supply our physical needs.

2. Discontentment would be rife. One of the main signs of discontentment is that you are unable to experience peace living on what God has provided. You then buy into the philosophy that you always need more. Ecclesiastes 5:10 says, Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.

3. Mismanagement. Often the problem with poverty is not lack of income, but mismanagement of income, both at a personal and Government level.

In short, I believe we should reject UBI and promote the solutions that God says will help us: work diligently, steward wisely and provide charitable help to those unable to work.

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