58% Of Australians Support Universal Basic Income!

By Tim Hollo December 11, 2020

Imagine if, instead of extending the awful, controlling, racist Cashless Welfare Card, as they did this week, our government was discussing how to cultivate trust, how a good society helps every one of its members get by.

Imagine if, alongside a commitment to universal health care and education, we put universal access to the funds we need to survive.

It shouldn’t be surprising that that’s a popular idea. But it kind of is.

There’s long been an assumption that nasty, punitive welfare policies are popular. As part of the long tradition of “punching down”, tabloid papers, talkback radio, and morning TV like to attack “dole bludgers” and “welfare cheats” as an easy target. And governments make life on income support as unpleasant as possible, with humiliating drug testing, paternalistic programs like Parents Next, and the devastating attack of robodebt. It’s all about keeping the workforce compliant, willing to be treated terribly in order to earn a living because the alternative is worse. And, in a classic divide and conquer approach, those with paid labour are encouraged to despise those without.

Thanks to this mythology, it’s generally been accepted that most people probably wouldn’t approve of the idea of Universal Basic Income. The idea of unconditionally giving everyone the basics that they need to survive surely wouldn’t get very far in this context. Without a long and carefully planned campaign, people would obviously reject the idea. Wouldn’t they?

I’ve often wondered about that. Because, despite the fact that most people in the “political classes” (including the labour movement and social services groups, as well as politicians and journalists and business people) generally rubbish UBI, whenever it comes up in conversation at barbecues, or in doorknocking, or at public meetings, I find a lot of curiosity and support.

So, we decided to find out.

With the contribution of a few generous donors, we put it to people in a YouGov omnibus poll:

Unconditional income support is sometimes called a Guaranteed Living Wage or a Universal Basic Income. This means that just as we can rely on basic health care and education, everyone in a society has a guaranteed minimum amount of money that they can rely on. Would you support or oppose a guaranteed living wage being introduced in Australia?

The response that came back was a real surprise. 29% strongly support, a further 29% somewhat support, and only 18% oppose.

The ABC have run an excellent piece on the poll today, which you can see here. It would be great if you’d help spread the word by sharing it widely.

I hope that, like me, you find this an uplifting note with which to draw this very trying year to a close. It feels to me like, although we are still struggling with deep systemic challenges standing in our way as we try to turn around the climate crisis and spiralling economic inequality and the theft of democratic rights, more and more people are recognising both what’s happening and what needs to be done. And this year has opened a lot of eyes.

The tipping point, when it comes, will come fast.

I look forward to your support as the Green Institute gives it another shove in 2021.


Benji says

The upswing in interest in UBI is very interesting, but I wonder whether the Green Institute would consider looking at alternative models to a "run of the mill" UBI that may be more achievable and desirable from an economic as well as a social perspective.
The basic premise of welfare is a safety net to ensure that as a modern society, members of that society are able to comfortably survive. In essence, we want society to ensure that everybody has adequate shelter, food, clean water, education, health care. In theory, the last two are provided to all individuals through state departments. For the sake of simplicity, the main purpose of welfare is therefore to provide food, clean water and shelter for all individuals.
What if instead of a UBI, we provided a safety net for every person in our country in the form of adequate food, clean water and social housing, no questions asked. While this might seem simplistic, it is very powerful in addressing issues experienced by people trapped in domestic violence, refugees, indigenous Australians. When individuals don't have to worry about where to sleep or whether they can eat, they can pay attention to their higher level needs rather than fight for survival. While a UBI can in theory achieve this across the board, it has not been demonstrated on a large scale. At its core, a 21st century wealthy society such as our own should have, as a minimum, a responsibility to ensure the basic needs of every individual is met, and the best way to achieve that may be through the provision of universal cashless welfare, rather than UBI. Unfortunately, it would seem that some on the left side of politics have equated cashless welfare with the racist, punitive system trialled at several sites over recent years. Cashless welfare is no such thing if it is well designed, universal and intended as a safety net. UBI, as with our current welfare system, relies on an arbitrary definition of a decent standard of living, that is difficult to define and results in a constant conflict between differing political ideals. The underlying expectation becomes that welfare SHOULD provide the standard of living that the recipients believe is the norm in society. This confounds the original intention of welfare as a safety net.
Of course, those with the inability to undertake paid employment such as people with a disability or the very aged would still require a cash pension, though this would be significantly reduced due to their receipt of the universal cashless benefit.
As the way that we engage in paid employment changes, people could be far more confident in undertaking casual or gig work, knowing that they will not be left destitute if their hours were cut.
With the immense cost of UBI being the deal breaker for several European countries, why don't we take the good (every person in society automatically has their basic needs met) and leave the bad (UBI will consume the vast majority of government revenue unless it is set at a rate well below the current standard of living for welfare recipients) by revising our welfare system to actually meet its intended purpose


Adelaide Independent Reporter says

Could you send me a copy of the Basic Income opinion poll, please? I have kicked $25 into your tin.


Char says

Wonderful concept and super exciting that Australians seem open to the concept. Needs a clever campaign to get the concept turned into policy. Would love to see this happen.


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