Should We Guarantee Freedom From Poverty?


As we know, more and more people are struggling in today’s economy. The solutions proposed by many politicians haven’t worked, as inequality keeps growing, people are living paycheck to paycheck, and wealthy countries are unable to end poverty.

The idea growing in strength as the solution is a Universal Basic Income (AKA Guaranteed Income, Guaranteed Annual Income). There are many different proposals and ongoing discussions about how a UBI would be structured. There is still resistance to the idea, which is understandable. Letting go of an old way of doing things – even when it isn’t working – is tough.

Recently though, I’ve been thinking there is an even deeper question we have to ask ourselves: Should freedom from poverty be the right of every citizen?

That question – and how we answer it – will have a big impact on our future.

Consider this: We take pride in our central role in crafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And here is what Section 25 – Part 1 of that document says:

“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

This sure sounds like a guarantee that nobody should live in poverty. And any country that ratified the Declaration, not to mention helped craft it, should be living up to it.

If we accept that the government has the responsibility to guarantee protection from poverty, the discussion shifts from whether or not to provide a Guaranteed Income, to the way a Guaranteed Income would be implemented. And while some may question whether government should provide freedom from poverty, consider this: In much of the world, governments already provide guaranteed access to education, guaranteed access to healthcare, guaranteed access to roads and infrastrucutre, and guaranteed fire/police services.

We guarantee these things because they make all of our lives better, and because we believe that everybody deserves a basic foundation in life.

But if health, education, access to infrastructure, and freedom to participate in the economy are all guaranteed, how can we allow our people to remain stuck in poverty, or teeter so close to the edge of poverty? Especially when we know that poverty has such a negative impact on educational outcomes, on health, and on access to economic opportunity. In a country as rich as ours, when we know it’s possible to guarantee a basic level of income for everybody, why do we keep pouring money into the same failed system?

These are questions we need to ask. And if we start asking them, I’m confident we will come to the conclusion that freedom from poverty should be the right of every citizen. And that will mean we must bring in a Guaranteed Basic Income.

 

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Photo credit: Robert Couse-Baker (Flickr) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/


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