How having the Conversation got me my Basic Income

At the end of last year I got my Basic Income. Kind of… I’ve spent almost all my spare time for the last two years working on Basic Income as volunteer director of Citizen’s Basic Income Network Scotland.

Cleo and Michael getting ready for the Basic Income Conversation launch in Sheffield this weekend

In December I got a (paid) job with Compass, tasked with creating an organisation that would further the case for a Basic Income here in the UK. I was gifted my wonderful Co-Founder Michael Pugh and off we went.

For me, this job is a bit like a Basic Income. I now have meaningful time to work on a project I’m passionate about. One that I think will make the world a better place, one that I worked on when I wasn’t being paid to. I can now do this work without having to worry about money.

You might say “Cleo, what you’re describing there is a job”. And you’re absolutely right. But a secure job that is true to your interests and that benefits the world around you doesn’t seem to be easy to come by these days.

Discovering Basic Income

Most people I chat to can’t pinpoint when they first heard about Basic Income, but I know exactly. Place: Glasgow. Date: Friday 2 June. Time: ok not exactly.
I was at TEDxGlasgow for a work team day, soaking in all the speakers and having a fab time. I was flagging a little in the afternoon (short attention span) but we headed over to listen to Jamie Cooke, Head of RSA Scotland, present “Scotland’s radical chance to lead the world (again)”.

His TED Talk is still a scorcher, so give it a wee watch (Spoiler: the radical chance is a Basic Income):

I remember my mind boggling. I’d never even considered it. We could just guarantee everyone enough money to bring rock bottom to a level above suffering. This was it! This is how we eliminate poverty. How we give everyone access to opportunity. How we support entrepreneurship and creativity and caring for our families. All the things that we sacrifice or prioritise at the expense of a consistent income.

The Melting Pot team at TEDxGlasgow 2017

I glanced around at my colleagues — they must be having the same profound revelation. They can’t have known about this! Surely if they knew we’d all be talking about it. I turned to my boss. Bright eyed, bushy tailed, full of childlike wonder and ready to change the world. I turned to my boss,

“Wow”

“Yeah it’s a great idea.” And then she followed up with the statement I’ve had said to me with an ever-increasing frequency since, “But it’s never going to happen.”

Shit. That was me back in the room, back to reality. I had fallen head over heels in love with the idea, but I couldn’t dismiss her pessimism. It would be a long road to a Basic Income.

Scotland’s Radical Chance

And it was a road I didn’t immediately start sprinting along. I was courting Basic Income but I was playing it cool. I was doing more chatting to pals about the concept than I was reading up on the practicalities of the policy. The next big leap forward came during another venture through to Glasgow. I was at a conference and spotted Basic Income on the bill so headed over to the event.
Citizen’s Basic Income Network Scotland were hosting a couple of talks and a panel session featuring Basic Income legend Annie Miller. I sat there, mind racing at the possibilities once again. But this time around I was struck by something else. Scotland was taking the idea seriously.

One of the CBINS meet-ups in Edinburgh

In 2017 Scottish Government allocated £250,000 to the Citizen’s Basic Income feasibility fund — a pot of money dedicated to exploring the potential of a Scottish Basic Income experiment. Four local authorities were pushing this forward, Fife, North Ayrshire, Edinburgh and Glasgow. They had submitted a successful bid for the money and a feasibility study was underway.

A research group would explore a variety of factors to decide whether a Scottish experiment was feasible. The potential impacts on participant’s behaviour. The political and public perception of a Basic Income pilot. How to design an experiment that tests the impact of a Basic Income on poverty. Whether a Basic Income is affordable. And the institutional barriers to a pilot.
On hearing that a Basic Income might really be on the horizon I approached CBINS and the rest is history. I initially started as a volunteer, soon after joined the board and then took on the volunteer director role.

Where are we now?

Since then I’ve had conversations with hundreds of people about Basic Income. One on one. At CBINS events in the back room of a pub. In Scottish Parliament. With strangers and with friends and family (who still humour me). And I’m not bored yet.

Last week Mike and I launched the Basic Income Conversation. We’ve spent the last few months working out what the UK needs to make a Basic Income happen. We quite quickly concluded that it needed more people to join the Conversation. A Basic Income goes to everyone and therefore it must work for everyone. We’ll spend the next year listening to individuals, communities, civil society groups and politicians so we can better understand what the UK would need from a Basic Income, and how we might get there.

Folks from the Basic Income groups around the UK at the launch of the Basic Income Conversation in Sheffield

We’re not alone. We’re working from a very solid foundation laid by Basic Income groups around the UK. The UBILabs, Basic Income UK, Citizens Basic Income Trust and my colleagues at CBINS. We’ll be working with them to support emerging Conversations — whether they’ll stay informal or develop into new local groups.

We’ll be working with researchers so we can share the latest evidence with everyone having the Basic Income Conversation. Perhaps the most significant research we’ll work with over the course of the next year is from the Scottish Basic Income experiment feasibility study. The final report is due to be published in June. I’m looking forward to a busy year encouraging Scotland to take its radical chance!

A Basic Income goes to everyone and therefore it must work for everyone.

But for now, I’m encouraging folks to join the Basic Income Conversation. If you want to see the UK’s first Basic Income pilot confirmed this year now is the time to make your voice heard. Plus it’s undeniably a fun conversation to have. If you’re not sure or even if you’re sure you don’t agree, you’re still very welcome to take part. It’s the concerns and the risks that we need to take seriously if we’re to build a Basic Income for the UK that leaves every citizen better off.

Joining these conversations has led me to my “Basic Income”. If we continue to have the conversation, and if we take it seriously enough, I hope it will lead us to a Basic Income for everyone.

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Working with people, communities & sectors to understand what a basic income could do for the UK. Led by Cleo and Lena. basicincomeconversation.org

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