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Itís time for a universal basic income grant

Lately I think most people who have been paying attention to such things have been hearing a lot about the basic income grant. Around the world pilot programmes are being tried to see how such a programme can work, from Namibia to Canada to Finland such are being tried, and initial results are encouraging.

In high income countries, they see the impending loss of jobs to automation as a reason to start such a programme, but in countries like Botswana it is a more humane way of alleviating poverty and giving people agency in their lives no matter their economic status.

You might be asking why I am writing about the basic income grant in my column dedicated to the arts. As all artists know, making a living from our art is difficult. Many talented musicians, poets, actors and writers live in poverty in Botswana or leave their art and get one of those dream-crushing day jobs. Even if we do not live in poverty, we often have to make bad choices because of money pressures. I truly believe that a universal basic income grant would help artists and would improve the quality of our art and the professionalism of our artists.

The basic income grant is a way to consolidate the welfare net for citizens into a more effective, streamlined, and dignified system. There are various formats being tested around the world, but basically it is a monthly income grant given to every person in the country. No more Ipelegeng, no more nine goats, instead one programme given to all citizens. For the wealthier, it is recouped through taxes. It is the elimination of all tests and evaluations to prove your need. It is the reinstitution of dignity no matter your income.

When I speak of this to people they say things such as “they’ll use it all on beer” or  “they’ll stop working and sit at home being lazy.” But the research pulled from pilot programmes does not show this, if anything it shows the opposite. That small bit of extra money allows people to get a step ahead of survival-mode and begin to thrive.

In Canada, they tried such a programme from 1974-1978 in Manitoba. In all groups except two, work levels were maintained or

increased. The two groups where the work levels decreased were teenage boys and new mothers. Teenage boys now were able to go back to school after being forced to drop out because of money pressures, so stopped working, and new mothers stayed home with their babies. Also in this programme they saw a decrease in hospital visits especially visits regarding mental health problems. Poverty and unemployment are debilitating, and can often lead to such mental health problems.  A more recent basic grant programme was piloted for two years in Namibia in the Otjivera-Omitara area from January 2008 to December 2009. The area has about a thousand residents. It was an economically depressed area with high unemployment and poverty, and all of the social ills that come with that.

In the pilot programme, every person under 60 years of age was given $100 (Namibian) (about P77) every month. Some of the outcomes from the programme included:

1. The school dropout rate was lowered from 40% to nearly zero at the very end of the programme. Pass rates also improved.

2. There was approximately a 50% increase in the number of people involved in new income generating projects.

3. The increase in household buying power sparked an increase in economic activity in the community.

4. The percent of underweight children decreased from 42% to 10%.

5. The overall crime rate fell by 42%.

6. A reduced dependency of women on men for survival saw less social ills around relationships, including a reduction in transactional sex.

The group who ran this pilot programme are lobbying the Namibian government to spread the programme nation-wide. We wait to see if they will take it up.

Though a cursory look may seem that such a programme could be costly, since it could replace all of our current programmes to eliminate poverty and assist with unemployment, in the end we might very well find that the amount spent by government would be reduced.

Its all I write



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