Actor Greg Wise has said it is time to end “toxic Victorian thinking” about the “undeserving” poor and introduce Universal Basic Income.
By: Judith Duffy
The TV and film star was one of the speakers who addressed a major online conference organised from Glasgow last week, which brought together experts from around the world to discuss the idea of governments guaranteeing a regular minimum income to every citizen.
In a recorded message to the Basic Income Earth Network Congress, Wise, who is appearing in this year’s Strictly Come Dancing, said he enjoyed financial security today thanks to fortunate circumstances.
But he said: “Should accident of birth and luck be the only means not to live a precarious life? “A society is judged by how it deals with its least fortunate members – at least, that is how it should be. So how are we faring?
“Not terribly well. Even pre-pandemic we were seeing a rise in childhood hunger, the fast disappearing secure band of society, the huge gap between most of us and the few super-rich.”
Wise argued that “Victorian thinking” about the ethics of the workhouse and the undeserving poor were still ingrained in society in the UK.
He said an example was his wife, the Oscar winning actress Emma Thompson, appearing on a radio show in which the presenter put forward the idea that childhood hunger was a result of the “fecklessness” of parents.
He said: “Maybe now with the furlough scheme having been seen as essential, we can look again at Universal Basic Income through a different lens, taking whatever toxic Victorian view that we have carried with us and see money given out from the state in a healthier way.”
He added: “Let’s give it a go, let’s try a Universal Basic Income and allow everyone the ability to at least in a small way feel they have some power to navigate, some sense of protection and availability to think beyond just struggling to the end of each month and try and access that principle human right – happiness.”
Scotland has looked at the feasibility of piloting Citizen’s Basic Income, concluding it would be desirable but the powers to run such a scheme lie with Westminster. Last week the Scottish Government announced plans to start work on a minimum income guarantee, which is targeted at those on lower incomes.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also addressed the conference in a video message, saying the gathering was an opportunity to “make the case” how Universal Basic Income can help create fairer and more equal societies for the future.
She added: “That won’t be an easy task, but the past 18 months have shown us that things that can seem difficult or even impossible can indeed be implemented when we have the will, the imagination and the ambition.”
Experts from around the world shared research and experiences of Universal Basic Income at the gathering, which concluded yesterday.
Simone Cecchini, of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, said many countries in the region had introduced an emergency basic income as a response to the pandemic.
He said extending this into a full Universal Basic Income would be costly, but said it could be done gradually by initially targeting groups such as children, to prevent a “lost generation” as a result of the impact of Covid.
“We think the medium and long-term policy goal is to implement a universal basic income,” he said.