I’ve been reading a book recently called Shattered, Modern Motherhood and the Illusion of Equality by Rebecca Asher. On the whole it’s quite good. It’s orders of magnitude over Jessica Valenti’s book Why Have Kids (and I don’t mean to flog a dead horse because I’ve been down that road before but I think they deserve to be compared and contrasted). Asher convincingly lays out the evidence for what we already knew – we haven’t achieved equality yet – weaving together facts and stories into some genuinely illuminating examples and arguments. The difference between she and I is that her conclusion is we all must be freed up to work, even if that means convincing employers to loosen their grasp on us just a little while I couldn’t help but repeat over and over, “THIS is why we need universal basic income!”
I still haven’t spent much time discussing universal basic income. I keep slipping it into posts here and there, hoping you already know what I’m talking about but I haven’t focused on it.
UBI is a cash transfer to every citizen up to the poverty level. “Ideally the UBI payment should be set at a rate which covers the basic costs of living (housing, water, energy, food) meaning that nobody would be forced to live in abject poverty in 21st Century…” says the blog Another Angry Voice. Universal basic income would be the single biggest step toward real economic equality for all, without abandoning capitalism. Let me explain.
It would eliminate poverty.
Poverty is an issue of equality and therefore it is a feminist issue. With Universal Basic Income, no one would live below the poverty line, except possibly some people who fall short of mental illness diagnosis who just want to be left alone. Poverty has been proven to stunt the growth of children’s brains which means if we don’t do something to lift them out, they simply haven’t been given a fair chance. As I’ll show later, the stress of poverty makes it too hard to provide the social and emotional needs to children. When you’re worried about how you’re going to feed your kid this week and keep the heating on, being emotionally warm and attentive just doesn’t seem important. That’s why gentle and attachment parenting information is often labelled middle class. It makes sense if you understand Maslow’s pyramid.
Image credit timvandevall.com
Obviously, some children who grow up in poverty will make it in life okay, but many more will not and there’s nothing okay about that when we know it’s not their fault. You can believe in social mobility all you want, you can tell yourself that the policies are in place for those who want it, but science tells us that children who grow up in poverty are less likely to recognise or use any help available, which is dwindling year by year.
It would remove the stigma against those who need help.
Cash grants would replace the current bloated, administrative nightmare that is the welfare system. Since it’s universal and goes to everyone rather than the current need-based, means-tested one, administration is streamlined and the welfare bill goes much much further, effectively eliminating poverty. No one is ‘on the dole,’ and there are no ‘scroungers‘ anymore, we’re all just people, trying to do the best we can with the life we’ve been given.
Which of course is the truth of the matter already, but perspective is everything.
It would reduce the crime rate.
I want to take a moment first to remind everyone that just because crime rate is reduced when poverty is reduced or eliminated does not mean that poor people are all criminals. We all know that people with money commit crime too. The difference is that they tend to commit crime for greed rather than desperation, and it tends to get covered up or swept away somehow. Poor people might shoplift or mug someone, and then you have Monsanto, the Koch brothers, and Ian Duncan Smith enacting policy that kills thousands when he’s been entrusted to serve the people of the United Kingdom.
Poverty and desperation rather than simply ‘bad people’ breeds most crime in high crime areas. In studies which sought to look at what happens with people receiving unconditional cash grants, crime has fallen by up to 44%. If the possibility of complete desolation is removed from peoples lives, they have more reason to play by the rules. But if those rules are keeping them sick, tired and without hope, they have few. Those that are lucky enough to never experience the hopelessness of extreme poverty can only imagine from their own privileged perspective and experience that there is always hope and always a way out. But those living in communities where everyone is poor and without hope have no basis to imagine life could ever get better or easier. Life is a huge struggle for everyone they know just to keep from giving up and wasting away on the streets. Worrying about the future is essentially pointless.
Additionally, one study in particular found that one effect of cash grants on families was an improvement in parental quality due to a decrease in stress, which we know will decrease crime long term. Which brings me to…
Improvement in parental quality.
As I’ve been saying for months feminists should be taking up parental quality as an issue because how we raise our children has a direct affect on what kind of society those children create together as adults. Parenting more gently would create more gentle and fair citizens which in turn would create a more gentle and just society. We unwittingly create rape culture just by trying to teach our children to respect authority. We press the wrong things on our kids, valuing achievements over caring for others, and while this is simply the way we all react to trying to live in the world we do, we cannot create a better one without changing the way we live and teach our children to live. Our behaviours and coping mechanisms are created in childhood and those behaviours take a lot of hard work to change once we reach adulthood so its in children and childhood that any hope of a just future resides. This is why feminism should focus on childhood.
Basic Income will reward unpaid contributions.
It’s still mostly women who contribute the equivalent of billions to our economy in unpaid care work; caring for children, un-well family members and the elderly. In studies of UBI, the only groups of people who stopped working were students and mothers of small children. Many women who choose to stay at home while their children are in school use their ‘free time’ to volunteer for charities and visit those who need help but are still trying to live independently. These are not things that always can be paid for but they are often invaluable to those helped. There is a lot of work that doesn’t get done in our society because no one is able or willing to pay for it. Mentoring, coaching, caring, tending to overlooked areas whether physical, social, or emotional, and much more than that. Universal Basic Income can help level that out a bit so that people who hear a calling to get something done might have more time and energy to do so. It also gives real choice for parents to stay at home with small children. Currently, that choice is not open to everyone and as it is arguably the best situation for small children, it should be.
Divorce would not leave women at such a disadvantage.
One of the situations that is always touched on when discussing whether women should stay home with their children is that of divorce. There are thousands of horror stories about women who dropped out of the labour market to take care of family for 10, 15, 20 years who then end up single with no way to support themselves because either their husband has had other ideas about his twilight years, or he’s abusive, or whatever. Most every answer to this is to never drop out of the labour market, which is understandable but it’s just a plaster over a festering wound. Two full-time working parents trying to raise kids are not having a better time of it, they are exhausted and stressed out and in no way more likely to make it in their marriage than the exhausted and stressed out couple who split their duties more traditionally. Frankly, we could all use a bit more slack in our lives with regards to time and energy; more on that later. Universal basic income would mean no one is left in poverty upon an unfortunate turn like divorce, illness or the death of a spouse. Not when their children are small and need looking after and not when they’re grown and all that work is has been done.
It would reduce the power of employers over us.
This is a very strong factor for inequality among genders. At the moment, employers demand that we give 110% of ourselves to our jobs in order to have any hope of pay rises and promotions. If we show any hint of wanting a better work/life balance than our colleagues we can kiss our career trajectory good-bye. Women who carry a baby in pregnancy and then birth, breast feed and care for it tend to produce hormones that tell her nothing is more important than caring for this child.
Many of us will never again care about our career above all else. And while you might say that’s our choice and employers should reward the employees who give the most, this effectively removes family-focused, egalitarian individuals from the labour market. The very people trying to live life according to feminist principles cannot do so if also trying to raise their children according to the evidence. When you value employers needs first, you are selecting away from what is best for society.
The power employers have over us won’t go away completely as long as there are a large enough group of career focused individuals, but as the threat of total destitution will be removed the employment market will change quite a bit. Firstly all the jobs paying minimum wage but are a total drag will have to up their game. I’ll take a job to make a bit more money for my family but standing on the side of the road in a chicken costume? You better be paying well for that. All those who dream of telling their boss to ‘Fuck Off’ will have a better chance of being able to do just that, so employers will have to spend a bit more time worrying about whether employees are happy.
It would open up the possibilities of reduced working hours and provide a better distribution of jobs to all.
This leads to more equality in the home. As employers will have to be more open about what employees want, flexible working for parents will inevitably open up. Personally I’d rather see flexible working options for all as law or even a cap on the number of hours each person can work, ideally. Regardless, I think Universal Basic Income will ultimately lead to flexible working options for all parents. We all need it, we all want it, and there’s no reason it can’t be made available. Both parents can work part time, split childcare, pay their bills and everyone is happy.
What’s not to love about that?
It would open up the opportunity to all to pursue their dreams.
Currently, once you’re an adult living on your own, possibly with kids, it’s almost impossible to spend any time doing anything other than work and chores. Forget getting an education or re-training for that dream career, or starting a business. Forget writing, painting or any other creative pursuit. This blog takes so much energy from me and my family and I consider quitting at least once a month, but I have such a passion for the subjects I write about and I’d be ranting and obsessing in private anyway even if I weren’t writing about it. If there was just a little slack it would be easier; it’s not like there’s any real scope in this to make it into a living, but it’s important and useful as far as I’m concerned. Creative projects like this blog or anything a person feels fulfilled by doing are also important to mental health. It goes back to Maslow and his pyramid again. Can you imagine what it would be like to live in a society where everyone is that advanced in Maslow’s pyramid?
We learn, and grow and are improved by art in our culture and it should not be left to only rich benefactors and those willing to live in abject poverty to participate. Ultimately more people following their passions would be a good thing for the economyand more importantly for everyone it serves.
It’s evidence based.
There have been numerous studies on universal basic cash transfers and they all find that it improves outcomes for everyone involved. Even just giving cash to substance addicted homeless individuals resulted in improved outcomes rather than money wasted on drugs and alcohol as we’ve all been told to expect. The myths told in a neoliberal, capitalist society about the futility of taking care of each other has been proven untrue, we just need to start recognising them as myths now.
It comes down to this, there’s no equality at all if there’s still poverty. The persistence of economic inequality will always ensure the persistence of gender inequality too. There’s no equality if some people are stuck toiling away every moment they have just to feed and house their children. Any semblance of equality can only come from all children growing up safe, fed, housed and happy. Everything else is just playing at the edges. Currently we only really value traditionally male activities. Even if we get women to make up 50% of MP’s, CEO’s and astronauts, without first changing our values as a society to reflect equal appreciation for the important work women have traditionally done there will still be inequality.