It’s 5:15am and the alarm goes off. My husband Daz is very disciplined in the morning and leaps out of bed to pull on his hoody and road-smelling hi-viz trousers. He’s off to Banbury to lay 80 tons of tarmac footpaths. The number of jobs Daz’s boss sends his gang to do has increased recently, though their pay is still the same… And most of the gang have been told to register as self-employed, which means they get no pension, they lose money if they want to take a holiday, and they lose money when they’re sick. And the work does hurt. It takes its toll on Daz’s back (he slips a disc about twice a year) and his energy levels. He’ll be home at 8:30pm after volunteering as an amateur boxing coach, as he does most nights of the week.
When I get into my job as a community organiser, my supervisor is on the phone to a local mom. She’s having severe difficulties with delays in getting her benefit payments restarted after a sanction. Once he’s off the phone we head out to a school listening session with some 8 & 9-year-old school kids. Top of their list of concerns is the fact that their parents have to work two jobs each, and aren’t around much as a result.
After work I need to rush to visit my sister at the neuro-rehab unit where she is currently getting support following a brain injury. I say rush, but the traffic is crazy. By the time I get there I can only stop for just under an hour, and she’s not in a talkative mood. The telly is on as usual, and competing with its hypnotic draw is hard. There’s a new staff member on the unit. She’s young and looks unhappy to be there. Someone’s shouting for attention down the corridor, and an alarm is beeping, unanswered.
I’ve not been able to see my best mate Sam for two weeks now. She’s getting the minimum wage and having to do a lot of overtime just to keep up with the cost of living. In between that she’s caring for a poorly relative, with little time left to take care of herself, though she is doing her best to squeeze that in where she can.
A parallel England, with a difference…
Me and Daz are both up to stretch with the sun at 6:30am. Today Daz is putting the finishing touches to the portfolio for his Forest School Leader qualification. He’s been loving the outside work and the reflection on teaching styles, but he’s less happy about all the forms. He’ll take his laptop and head over the boxing gym mid-morning. He’s still there most days, but he’s not tarmacking as well. A fleet of machines surfaces the roads now, in the middle of the night. Daz can visit his family who live near the gym more often too.
I’m heading out for an early Personal Training session with one of my new clients. We’re using the park today, which is between both of our houses and has a great hill for sprinting up. After that I’m off to spend the day hanging out with my sister. I want to try and spark off a conversation about her emotions again, using a pack of mood cards that I bought. She’s been through a lot, so progress is slow and painstaking. My previous ability to be there with her didn’t cut it. Daz and I are making plans to get an outdoor gym going together, and we want to make sure that my sister can be nearby. I’ll update her on our idea today too.
After a Basic Income was established as a right for everybody, a lot of the bread and butter, crisis-mode issues that we tackled in my last job simply didn’t exist anymore. The community organising is still going on, but nowadays it’s more concerned with building democratic participation and strong relationships between different communities. Now the focus is on political education, redesign of services, and agitating for better representation of working class families’ interests.
Life has changed for the carers at my sisters’ unit too. Most of them have gone part-time. There are more people employed, from all kinds of walks of life, ex-construction, ex-retail, ex-DWP. It’s a well-paid job now. At any one time a quarter of the staff may be on study leave working towards a qualification. Carers and clients at the unit spend a lot of time brainstorming ideas for activities and how to improve the unit.
Sam comes to join me and my sister in the afternoon, before she visits her own relative. We all do a bit of digging together on my allotment. She also has an idea to share – a handy-person business especially for older women. She’s making a start on a tool collection with the wages from her part-time job and getting trained in some extra skills.
That evening I do a 3 hour stint volunteering on the phone lines for a local rape and sexual violence support service. It’s something I would never have had time to do before. Most of the volunteers there are new, like me, since the introduction of Basic Income. The team is three times bigger.
This is how I imagine I might spend a day after Basic Income. But it has been tried out for real – you can read about significant trials of the policy in India, Namibia and Canada. What these studies found was that people who chose to work less, did so to spend more time caring (new parents) or studying.
In the West Midlands we’ve spent the summer asking the public what they would do if the cost of their essentials was guaranteed. They often told us similar things – they’d learn, or just have better quality time with their families.
UNISON West Midlands is interested in Basic Income because of inequalities in the economy and our current systems of work. But we also organise a large amount of care workers. Care is an underfunded and overstretched industry, with rising demand on it. Currently people can be coerced to take on a job as a carer to ensure they can eat and pay rent. It’s tough work – this does not mean good outcomes for people like my sister. Imagine how a Basic Income could transform care – carers with more choices and power, a more creative care industry. People could be released from doing jobs that might be better done by machines, and instead be able to share out the critical face-to-face interaction that makes us human.
Becca Kirkpatrick, UNISON West Midlands Community branch chair.
This piece is part of our blog series ‘Universal Basic Income: Security for the Future?’, you can read the other articles in the series here.