The Australian Council of Social Service, the nation’s peak body representing the community services and welfare sector, has taken what is in effect a big step towards advocating a basic income.
In a submission to the current government review of the welfare system, ACOSS urges the government to “remove the distinction between pensions, allowances and student payments, and replace them with a common income support payment level that is adequate to cover the cost of life’s essentials.”
ACOSS is not advocating a “pure” basic income. It suggests supplementing the standard income support payment with top-ups for people with extra costs, including the costs of disability, the costs of care and the extra costs of caring for a child alone. This would mean that hundreds of thousands of people would still have to be individually assessed by the state on a regular basis to determine how much income support they would receive. That is something a universal basic income would avoid.
However the ACOSS standing income support system would be a good interim step on the road to basic income. It would be vastly simpler than the present system where there are “allowances”, “pensions” and “student payments”.
(In the jargon, an allowance is essentially a minimum amount of money grudgingly paid to unemployed people the government considers capable of work, even if no work is available and a pension is paid to people who are judged to be too old or disabled to work.)
It contrasts sharply with the interim report of the government’s review, which is proposing to make everything even more complicated by introducing a fourth category, between allowances and pensions, for those assessed as having limited “work capacity”.
ACOSS also proposes that “an independent expert commission be appointed by the Government to recommend benchmarks for the adequacy of income support payments.” Although ACOSS does not say so, the establishment of such a commission would be an essential first step in moving to a full basic income system.
The ACOSS submission is well worth a read. Clearly, soberly written over 78 pages (plus attachments on the real figures). It is a polite but damning condemnation of the current system.