Flat rate universal basic income plan for everyone whether in work, unemployed or with disabilities

ubi swiss ubi posterSwiss to vote on UBI on June 5.

Several countries around the world are talking about the idea of introducing Universal Basic Income (UBI), not to be confused with Universal Credit which is being introduced in the UK to replace several means-tested welfare benefits.

Universal Basic Income is where the government pays everybody a set amount, whether they work or not, in place of means-tested benefits. Of course, the incentive to work is still said to exist as most people will want to have more money than paid by UBI.

On June 5, Switzerland is holding a referendum of its citizens that, if successful, means it will become the first country to provide universal basic income. They will be voting on a plan that could see all adults receive about 2,500 Swiss Francs (approximately £1,700; $2,460) a month, with children receiving 625 Francs (about £445; $615) for each child. There will be no additional disability benefits.

The Swiss federal government estimates that the proposal will cost around 208 billion francs a year and the Swiss parliament has called for voters to reject the proposal with all parties united against it. Only 14 MPs supported the basic income initiative. One MP described the initiative as “the most dangerous and harmful initiative that has ever been submitted,” mentioning the risks of immigration, disincentive to work, and that the basic income proposed would not be financially feasible.

The Federal Council, Switzerland’s executive branch, also recommended its rejection, noting that UBI would cause low-paid jobs to disappear or be transferred abroad and would send women back to house work or care work. They said that implementing the initiative would also raise taxes and weaken incentive to work.

To understand how this proposal has come so far despite opposition from the government, you need to know that Switzerland has a form of direct democracy alongside its Parliament. Citizens simply have to gather 100,000 signatures calling for a vote on a proposal, and a ballot must be held with its result binding.

There have been UBI-type policies and experiments in both India and Brazil that have suggested that, contrary to fears about ‘welfare sapping people’s initiative, a basic income might actually increase people’s appetite for work. It seems to increase their sense of stability.

In the Netherlands, in the city of Utrecht, there is a pilot UBI-ish scheme whereby people on benefits are paid unconditionally.  Other Dutch towns and cities look set to follow Utrecht’s example. Finland has plans to pilot an even more ambitious kind of basic income.

UBI ideas have been suggested in other countries, including both the USA and UK. So far, however, no firm proposals have been put forward in either nation.

 

Crabb set to unveil new plans for disability benefits

stephen crabb hocWork and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb addresses the House of Commons. Prime Minister David Cameron is watching on.

Stephen Crabb, who was appointed as the UK’s new Work and Pensions Secretary after the resignation of Ian Duncan Smith, is to make a House of Commons speech next Tuesday, April 12. He is expected to set out his (and the government’s) vision for the future. And what he has to say will probably have a significant impact on all disabled people with Parkinson’s Disease, multiple sclerosis, EDS and a host of other conditions both visible and invisible.

Rumours from the Department for Work and Pensions, as reported by leftist Vox Political, suggest that he is likely to announce renewed plans to change the descriptors to Personal Independence Payment (PIP) for aids and adaptations in August or September. That, of course, won’t mean that the government is backtracking on its statement of having no plans to make the changes dropped only two weeks ago – no, these will be ‘new’ changes.

The Sunday Times newspaper has already revealed that Crabb is expected to say that he is unhappy with the work of companies tasked with the role of assessing claimants for both Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and PIP. It said he was looking to end the contracts with those companies – we will see.

Another possible development may be to follow the cut of £30 being made to new ESA claimants in the Work-Related Activity Group by making a similar cut to the Support Group’s payments – perhaps even, eventually, abolishing ESA altogether and instead including its payments within Universal Benefit.

Many of these welfare reform proposals appear to have originated in the right-wing Reform think-tank that published its recommendations in February. One of those was the cut in ESA for people in the Work-Related Activity Group.

In a nutshell, Reform’s plan includes:

  • Setting a single rate for out-of-work benefit. The savings from this rate reduction should be reinvested into Personal Independence Payment – which contributes to the additional costs incurred by someone with a long-term condition – and into support services;
  • Ending the Work Capability Assessment in its current form;
  • Abolishing Employment and Support Allowance altogether and rolling sickness benefits into Universal Credit with “a single online application for the benefit, including a ‘Proximity to the Labour Market Diagnostic’ to determine a claimant’s distance from work and a health questionnaire”;
  • To have all sickness benefit reduced to the same level as Jobseekers’ Allowance.

Yes, really! If Vox Political is correct, cutting ESA for people in the Work-Related Activity Group was only part of it. If the plan to roll sickness benefits into Universal Credit is implemented, then people in the Support Group – those with serious conditions that are not expected to improve within the foreseeable future – stand to lose a huge amount of their weekly income.

All this from the Conservative government that, Stephen Crabb said on March 21, has no plans to make further welfare cuts during this parliament. Of course, we must balance that with the word from the Treasury that same day; that what Crabb said didn’t at all mean no more cuts in this parliament, just none planned.

Next week, we may discover what plans there are now.

Everyone’s vote should matter – but does it?

ballot box

Uncertainty is hanging over the heads of people in so many different countries this year as questions relating to their futures are being decided at the ballot box. Well, they should be.

In the USA, the various Democratic and Republican candidates are fighting through the primary and caucus system to win enough support to win their party’s nomination as candidate in the presidential election in November.

In Europe, there are three important decisions being made: the Irish general election; the UK referendum on whether to remain in or to leave the European Union; and the efforts In Spain to form a government following the December general election that left no party with enough seats to govern alone.

flag USA

Back in the States, there are really only two contenders for the Democrats: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Hillary is by far the favourite although her early victories have been close – some decided by the toss of a coin and others through the help of unregistered voters. It seems that not all is as it should be in the States. My wife, Lisa, is American and she is not surprised by the shenanigans. “Votes don’t matter in America. People don’t really choose candidates or the President. Look at the New Hampshire primary; Sanders won 60% of the popular vote but, because of party rules, Clinton won the most delegates; tell me how that is fair or democratic,” she says.

On the other side of the political debate, the Republican fight seems to be only of concern now to three would-be presidents: front runner Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Others still in the race seem to be out of contention. As the campaign heads towards ‘Super Tuesday’, it looks as though Trump may soon be in an unbeatable position to be named as the party candidate.

flag Ireland

Ireland goes to the polls tomorrow, February 26, to elect its new government. Opinion polls point to Fianna Fail replacing Labour as the second largest party. Fine Gael looks set to remain the largest party, just, but with fewer seats No-one is predicted to achieve an overall majority.

flag Spain

Spain’s parliament meets on March 2 in an attempt to install PSOE (socialist) leader Pedro Sanchez as prime minister. To do so, he will need to win the support of the majority of deputies choosing to vote. Some may abstain. If the PSOE leader cannot receive the necessary backing the PP (conservatives) may be asked once more to form a government but  they have already declined once. Should all attempts fail, Spain will go to the polls once more in June.

flag UK flag Europe

The UK faces a vote in the form of a referendum to either remain in the European Union or to leave it, the so-called Brexit. The vote takes place on June 23 and the ‘Remain’ and ‘Leave’ campaigns both have support from politicians in all the main UK-wide parties. This referendum is too distant and the campaign too long to hazard a prediction yet.

 

HSCT, sunshine, MS and other musings

gwen higgsbernie sandersHCdavid cameron_edited Gwen Higgs, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and David Cameron

Gwen’s story, warts and all

HSCT, stem cell therapy, and its use to treat multiple sclerosis patients has been on television, in publications and even this blog during the second half of January. In just a couple of days, or so, I shall be bringing you the story of Gwen Higgs from diagnoses, through her battle against both MS and her neurologist, her treatment in Russia, and how she is today.

It is an honest story that does not gloss over her struggles or her embarrassment. Be sure not to miss out.

So this is winter?

Weather here in the south of Spain continues to be most pleasant. In the last two days, Lisa and I have enjoyed lunch outdoors on the terrace while we soaked up the sun;  so good for my Vitamin D.

Forecasts for Thursday and Friday don’t look as good with highs of only 12° and 14°C/ 54° and 57°F respectively – but warmer weather should return on Saturday.

I am still not really acclimatised yet but certainly enjoying the sunshine in which it is hot enough to sunbathe. It just seems ridiculous to be able to do that in the so-called winter months of January and February.

Back to Malaga

Our car was collected today and taken back to the automatic gearbox specialist in Malaga but, this time, they brought us a courtesy car. So there is no need now to rely on neighbours’ goodwill to take us shopping and what not.

Six coin tosses decide Iowa Democratic winner

So six of the Iowa State Democratic party delegates as elected by the caucus were decided by coin tosses as both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders achieved equal votes in six of the areas being counted.

Now if six dead heats aren’t coincidental enough, the fact that Hillary won all six coin tosses is just too much for me. Don’t worry, I am sure conspiracy theories will soon arise.

In Iowa, Sanders won 21 of the delegates without a coin toss; Hillary gained 22 INCLUDING all six dead heats decided by the flip of a coin. Now tell me that Hillary won in Iowa. If just one toss had gone to Sanders, then he would have won 22-21. Enough said.

UK Euro battle lines were drawn early

On the eastern side of the Atlantic, UK Prime Minister David Cameron is hailing the outcome of his negotiations with Europe as successful. Whether they are, or aren’t, is another matter.

What everybody needs to realise, however, is that the ‘stay’ and ‘leave’ campaigns for the UK’s promised referendum on membership of the European Union were already decided before the results of the renegotiation were known.

Those determined to stay, and those determined to leave, had declared their positions and would be campaigning for victory in the referendum. In reality, the renegotiations did not matter at all.

 

Act now to save Orcas from extinction by chemicals

orca

Mammoth black-and-white Killer Whales, the mammals made popular by films such as Free Willy, face the terrible danger of extinction in the seas around Europe.

The cause of the problem is of human origin – poisonous chemicals.

Like other animals at the top of the food chain, the Killer Whale is particularly at risk of poisoning from accumulation of toxins, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and a new study is reporting that high levels of PCBs are still being pumped into the world’s oceans.

And that despite it being banned many years ago.

The report of the study, of 1,000 Killer Whale, Dolphin and Porpoise samples taken off the Strait of Gibraltar, Spain’s Canary Islands, Britain and Ireland, describes the Strait of Gibraltar, their only passage between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, as being ‘especially bad’.

The findings of the study, published in Nature magazine, have prompted zoologists to now call for tougher regulations including more stringent penalties for those caught disposing of man-made PCBs into the seas.

Paul Jepson, speaking on behalf of the London-based Zoological Society, said: “It’s really looking bleak. We think there is a very high extinction risk for Killer Whales as a species in industrialised regions of Europe.”

An earlier survey, off Washington state’s Pacific coast, found PCB levels in Killer Whales were higher than levels that had caused health problems in harbour seals. Meanwhile whale blubber samples in the Norwegian Arctic have been found to show higher levels of PCBs, pesticides and brominated flame-retardants than in polar bears.

More properly known by its latin name Orcinus orca, the Killer Whale is also referred to as the Orca. It is a toothed whale belonging to the oceanic dolphin family, of which it is the largest member. There are four types of Killer Whales that, between them, are found in all oceans.

They have a varied diet, although individual populations often specialize in particular types of prey. Some feed exclusively on fish, while others hunt marine mammals like seals, and even large whales. They have been known to attack baleen whale calves. Killer Whales are regarded as apex predators residing at the top of a food chain – upon which no other creatures prey or one lacking natural predators.

Killer whales are highly social; some populations are composed of matrilineal, or female line, family groups which are the most stable of any animal species. Their sophisticated hunting techniques and vocal behaviour, or ‘whale song’, are often specific to a particular group and passed across generations and have been described as manifestations of culture.

Looking at the 12 months ahead of us

genelect queen reign HCFrom left: Spanish party leaders seek coalitions, UK’s Queen Elizabeth II will be 90 in April, Hillary Clinton set to win Democratic nomination but President?

January – now. Spain’s national politicians are trying to put together a coalition to form a government after last month’s general election created a hung parliament for the first time since democracy was restored. They have until January 13 to succeed or a new election will be called. (50shades: It seems no-one wants a second election but to avoid that some tough compromises will need to be made).

March 14 – European Space Agency and Roscosmos plan to launch the joint ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter on a mission to Mars following postponement of original planned launch on January 7. (50shades: Good to see some international cooperation, if it goes ahead this time).

April 21- Queen Elizabeth II of the UK will mark her 90th birthday. (50shades: So many years of service to her country).

May 5 – National Assembly for Wales election (where we lived before moving to Spain). (50shades: There is likely to be a new party in the Assembly after the election with UKIP possibly gaining as many as 10 seats. This could herald the end to Labour’s monopoly on power and mean a return to coalition rule. The only question being: Which parties would be in such a coalition? Most likely Labour/Plaid Cymru/Liberal Democrats).

May 9 – A transit of Mercury will occur when the planet comes between the Sun and the Earth, and Mercury is seen as a small black dot moving across the face of the Sun. Full transit will be visible in South America, Eastern North America, Western Europe, and a partial transit everywhere else except Australia and far eastern Asia. (50shades comment: Nothing to get excited about, fairly frequent most recent one was in 2006).

May 12-15 A special celebration will take place in the grounds of Windsor Castle, UK, in celebration of the Queen’s 90th birthday.

June 1 – Gotthard Base Tunnel, the world’s longest (35.4 miles) and deepest rail tunnel, is scheduled to be opened in Switzerland. (50shades: The Swiss are good at creating tunnels. This will help trade).

June 10-12 – UK national commemorations to mark the Queen’s 90th birthday.

July 4 – America’s NASA Juno spacecraft is expected to arrive at Jupiter. (50shades: Wait for pictures of Jupiter to fill TV screens and newspapers).

July 18-21 – Republican Party National Convention at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. (50shades: Maybe too close to call but, sticking out neck, it will be Ted Cruz as nominated candidate).

July 25-28 – Democratic Party National Convention at Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia. (50shades: Hillary Clinton will win the presidential nomination).

August 5-21 – 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (50shades: Expect thrills and spills aplenty plus a scandal or two. Wow, is it really four years since London Olympics?).

September 3 – NASA plans to launch the OSIRIS-REx mission to retrieve a sample from the asteroid Bennu. (50shades: Doubtless it will be a success but what’s the point?)

Sometime in September – China plans to complete the Five hundred metre Aperture Spherical Telescope. (50shades: So China wants its own telescope but will it be any better than what we have now?).

November 1 – Sierra Nevada Corporation plans to launch Dream Chaser, a privately built spaceplane on an unmanned debut mission. (50shades: Sounds interesting).

November 8 – USA presidential election (50shades: Republican candidate, whoever he is, will win).

December 31 – The last remaining American, British and Australian troops ‘will’ withdraw from Afghanistan. (50shades: It won’t happen, there will be a reason why they need to remain).