A shorter working week: Owen Jones & NEF’s Anna Coote

Owen Jones recently called for shorter working week and harked back to a 2014 article by Anna Coote, head of social policy for the New Economics Foundation.  

We have long called for shorter and more flexible hours of paid work, firstly in our report 21 Hours and more recently in our book Time on Our Side. Any move towards a shorter working week would need to be implemented gradually, alongside efforts to strengthen wage levels across the economy. But as long as that’s understood, there are clear benefits for environment, economy and society:

  • A smaller carbon footprint: Countries with shorter average hours tend to have a smaller ecological footprint. As a nation, the UK is currently consuming well beyond its share of natural resource. Moving out of the fast lane would take us away from the convenience-led consumption that is damaging our environment, and leave time for living more sustainably.
  • A stronger economy: If handled properly, a move towards a shorter working week would improve social and economic equality, easing our dependence on debt-fuelled growth – key ingredients of a robust economy. It would be competitive, too: the Netherlands and Germany have shorter work weeks than Britain and the US, yet their economies are as strong or stronger.
  • Better employees: Those who work less tend to be more productive hour for hour than those regularly pushing themselves beyond the 40 hours per week point.  They are less prone to sickness and absenteeism and make up a more stable and committed workforce.
  • Lower unemployment: Average working hours may have spiralled, but they are not spread equally across our economy – just as some find themselves working all hours of the day and night, others struggle to find work at all. A shorter working week would help to redistribute paid and unpaid time more evenly across the population.
  • Improved well-being: Giving everybody more time to spend as they choose would greatly reduce stress levels and improve overall well-being, as well as mental and physical health. Working less would help us all move away from the current path of living to work, working to earn and earning to consume. It would help us all to reflect on and appreciate the things that we truly value in life.
  • More equality between men and women: Women currently spend more time than men doing unpaid work. Moving towards a shorter working week as the ‘norm’ would help change attitudes about gender roles, promote more equal shares of paid and unpaid work, and help revalue jobs traditionally associated with women’s work.
  • Higher quality, affordable childcare: The high demand for childcare stems partly from a culture of long working hours which has spiralled out of control. A shorter working week would help mothers and fathers better balance their time, reducing the costs of full-time childcare. As well as bringing down the cost of childcare, working fewer hours would give parents more time to spend with their children. This opportunity for more activities, experiences and two-way teaching and learning would have benefits for mothers and fathers, as well as their children.
  • More time for families, friends and neighbours Spending less time in paid work would enable us to spend more time with and care for each other – our parents, children, friends and neighbours – and to value and strengthen all the relationships that make our lives worthwhile and help to build a stronger society.
  • Making more of later life: A shorter and more flexible working week could make the transition from employment to retirement much smoother, spread over a longer period of time.  People could reduce their hours gradually over a decade or more.  Shifting suddenly from long hours to no hours of paid work can be traumatic, often causing illness and early death.
  • A stronger democracy: We’d all have more time to participate in local activities, to find out what’s going on around us, to engage in politics, locally and nationally, to ask questions and to campaign for change.

Anna’s article followed a call for a four-day week from Dr John Ashton, president of the UK Faculty of Public Health. He called for the country to switch to a four-day week to help combat high levels of work-related stress, let people spend more time with their families or exercising, and reduce unemployment. Bringing the standard working week down from five to four days would also help address medical conditions, such as high blood pressure and the mental ill-health associated with overwork or lack of work.

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Universal Basic Income 8 – update

In October, Dylan Matthews (US Occupy website) wrote about a forthcoming Basic Income pilot.

Next year, a random sample of the 300,000 residents of Stockton, California – the largest city in the U.S. to declare bankruptcy during the financial crisis – will get $500 per month with no strings attached. It’s the latest test of basic income, funded by the Economic Security Project, a pro-basic income advocacy and research group co-chaired by Facebook co-founder and former New Republic publisher Chris Hughes and activists Natalie Foster and Dorian Warren; Hughes provided the group’s initial funding.

Many of Silicon Valley’s tech entrepreneurs and investors see basic income, as a necessary way to support Americans if artificial intelligence and other automation advances lead to unemployment for vast swathes of the population, redistributing the wealth that Silicon Valley creates to poorer people and localities left behind.

Ontario, Canada, Finland, and the international charity GiveDirectly in Kenya have all launched basic income experiments of their own and Glasgow, Edinburgh, North Ayrshire and Fife in Scotland are jumping into the ring too. A list of ongoing and announced basic income pilots can be found on the BIEN website.

In 2011, a pilot BI project was launched in rural Madhya Pradesh through the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), in collaboration with UNICEF.

See this excellent video account – well worth twelve minutes of your time. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UWW9XY27ocI

For 12 to 18 months, over 6,000 individuals received ‘basic income’. The grants were universal, unconditional, and were given to individuals, not the head of the household, to ensure that there is no harassment and ensuring financial inclusion of women, children and the elderly.

Two pilot studies were conducted under this project: in one, 8 villages received the basic income, while 12 similar villages didn’t. In the other, one tribal village received the income while another tribal village was taken as control group. The studies covered over 15,000 individuals in all.

The results of these pilots, published in the book Basic Income: A Transformative Policy for India. (2014, London: Bloomsbury, by Professor Guy Standing of BIEN who speaks in the video), showed many encouraging developments, debunking the myths that basic cash transfers in rural India would inevitably lead to a decrease in work or that money would be wasted in alcohol consumption and other pursuits:

o   Basic living conditions, starting with sanitation, better access to clean drinking water, improvements in cooking and lighting energy sources, improved significantly.

o   There was a major increase in food sufficiency, improved diets, better nutrition and reduction in seasonal illnesses.

o   Better health of children led to higher school attendance and improved performance. The basic income also facilitated spending on school uniforms, books and stationery.

o   The cash transfer facilitated small scale investments such as buying better raw materials and equipment, which resulted in a higher income.

o   There was also a shift, especially in the tribal village, from wage labour and bonded labour to owning farms and to other forms of self-employment.

o   Women’s empowerment was another outcome of the pilot studies: their participation in economic decision making in the household improved.

The basic income also enabled indebted villagers to pay back the money lenders and borrow less from them.

Readers who wish to know more about the Indian pilot may do so by using the links at the foot of this blog.

The Times reports that Nobel Prize-winning economist Professor Joseph Stiglitz, a member of the Scottish government’s council of economic advisers, had reservations about Basic Income, saying that it would be better to focus on targeting those who have particularly strong needs and on creating jobs while ensuring the most vulnerable were supported. But Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, has vowed to press ahead with plans to explore such a policy, where welfare payments are replaced with a guaranteed income for everybody, and has offered government funding for research schemes.

https://www.guystanding.com/files/documents/Basic_Income_Pilots_in_India_note_for_inaugural.pdf

https://www.degrowth.info/en/2016/05/universal-basic-income-in-india-a-promising-experience/

https://www.theguardian.com/business/economics-blog/2014/dec/18/incomes-scheme-transforms-lives-poor

 

 

 

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NEF: putting tenants back at the heart of social housing policy

Joe Beswick writes: “At the New Economics Foundation, we’re working with resident-led groups across the country proposing detailed, costed plans for affordable housing projects on public land – such as StART Haringey.  It takes courage, resources and imagination to see tenants and communities as the real agents of regeneration, and ensure that what gets built responds to community needs, instead of ignoring them. But that is exactly what needs to happen. If we learnt anything from the Grenfell tragedy, it was that for too long, social housing tenants’ voices have been ignored. Residents knew the tower was unsafe – but nobody listened to them. Lightly edited extracts from Joe’s article follow. The full text may be read here.

Earlier this week the leader of the Labour Party made a real commitment to increasing tenant power. His promise to give social housing tenants a ballot on the decision to regenerate their estate would be an important first step in putting tenants back at the heart of social housing policy.

So-called consultations have, in effect, made decisions about what happens to people’s homes behind closed doors, without meaningful input from residents. Some regeneration schemes, like the Heygate Estate in Southwark, have seen the numbers of affordable social rent homes plummet, with only 82 of the 2,704 new homes built available at social rent levels.

An excellent article in the Financial Times is cited: “I in London, as has been widely reported, the current models of estate regeneration already lead to a large net loss of social rented homes, with regeneration often actually making the housing crisis worse:

Local authorities and housing associations should offer increased access to information and clear options for regeneration – something which has so often been lacking in recent schemes. They would need to ‘win over’ their tenants in order to succeed in the ballot.

But community control over regeneration can work. On many estates undergoing regeneration, residents have created their own ‘people’s plans – innovative regeneration schemes which put residents in control and deliver net increases in social housing. For instance the residents of the Waterton and Elgin Community Homes estates in Westminster, which are entirely tenant controlled, are undertaking a major regeneration scheme, adding 43 affordable homes to Westminster’s housing stock.

For social landlords to be able to work with tenants to deliver regeneration which consistently meets the needs of the community, they will be need to empowered, reskilled and resourced – for example, by lifting the borrowing cap which so often forces local authorities into unsatisfactory regeneration partnerships with private developers, to the exclusion of tenants.

Mr Beswick concludes: “expanding the power and control of tenants must not be restricted simply to regeneration. To begin to fix our broken housing system, tenants and local communities need to be genuinely empowered in areas where for too long they have had too little control. This would include giving tenants greater involvement in the day-to-day management of their estates, to end the ‘them-vs-us’ relationship between social tenants and their landlords which has become so common. It would also include putting the needs of local communities at the heart of decision-making over what gets built in the local area, especially on public land”.

 

 

 

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New Economics:  a local alternative to Uber

Transport for London has decided not to give Uber a new license, though its application (Uber requires drivers and users to have a smartphone) will still be operational in London while Uber appeals against the decision. Problems have arisen partly due to the company’s policy of not finding out whether the prospective driver has a criminal record.

An Uber executive from the scandal-prone company is said to have advocated hiring investigators to “dig up dirt” on journalists who criticize them. A commissioner in Virginia who opposed Uber was flooded with emails and calls after the company distributed his personal contact information to its users in the state.

Uber has been banned from or – due to legal restrictions – has voluntarily pulled out of Alaska, Oregon (except Portland), Vancouver, Bulgaria, Denmark, Hungary, Italy, German, London, the Northern Territory in Australia, Japan, and Taiwan.

The New Economics Foundation has called for a mutually-owned, publicly-regulated alternative to Uber, providing better working conditions for drivers and higher safety standards for passengers.

Stefan Baskerville (NEF: Unions and Business) said: “Digital platforms are here to stay and technology cannot be reversed. The question now is how they should be controlled and by whom, as well as the standards they set and how they treat people. It is time to develop alternative models which put people back in control”.

As NEF points out, drivers in different parts of the UK are developing their own platforms

In 2015 Cab:app was co-founded by London taxi driver Peter Schive, who said: ‘Cab:app draws on the heritage and expertise of the black cab industry and translates it for the digital world.

Other early examples included the Bristol Taxi App – abbreviated to Braxi – which will only employ drivers licensed by Bristol City Council. Farouq Hussain, ‘one of the brains behind the app’, described it as being “just like Uber, only local”, with no surcharge and 25% pay cut. He added: “Our app takes the best of Uber and makes it local”.

The most recent: in June Anlaby-based 966 Taxis in Hull designed and launched its Uber-style app which they believe could transform the service. Alice Martin (NEF: Lead for Work) said: “TFL’s move will send ripples across the country where there has been a recent surge in private hire licenses given out to support Uber’s growth, particularly in the Midlands, Yorkshire and the North West” adding:

We’ve been working with drivers in different parts of the UK who are developing their own platforms. The time has come for the Mayor to back a better alternative to Uber and lead the way for other local authorities to do the same”.

COMMENT

Jeremy Heighway writes:

Years ago (but still after the dawn of apps) I thought about putting some effort into an app that would be more closely related to hitch-hiking than getting a taxi.

Basically, new trips by car should not be generated (aside for slight detours), and drivers would only be sharing the costs of trips they would have made anyway – and not making an actual profit.

I hope that a new platform manages to get the idea across that socially and ecologically sound mobility is not via job and journey creation using cars, but more efficient vehicle use.

 

 

 

 

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Shrinking cities  

Margaret Okole writes: “At the last meeting of the New Economics Forum, we talked about population movements. Some were of the view that megacities grow inexorably larger, but London seems to be proving otherwise. This article in the Guardian suggests that it is actually shrinking slightly”.

The article referred readers to Yorkshire Building Society research, which shows that with a continuing affordability crisis in London, popular destinations, such as Lewes and Exeter, have become increasingly affordable. The findings, based on official earnings figures and Land Registry data for house prices in 356 local authority areas, come as the number of people leaving London is at a five-year high, with net outward migration of 93,300 people in the year to June 2016, 80% higher than five years earlier.

She ends: “I think Government policy has a big influence on whether people move and there’s nothing inevitable about it. It would be interesting to compare population movements within different European countries and the reasons for them”. 

A New Delhi contact, Devinder Sharma, points to the influence of an international institution – the World Bank – referring to a ‘60s/’70s directive which has so far eluded online detection. He deplores the apparent desire of his government to see people in rural areas migrate to towns and cities. However he referred to Michael Lipton, professor of political science, who draws on WB publications in focussing on this theme Lipton M. ‘Why poor people stay poor: urban bias in world development.'(Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1977). Many neoliberal publications propose this migration to free land for ‘development’ or ranch style farming – food for export.

A search revealed frequent use of the term ‘shrinking cities’. A Financial Times columnist focusses on cities in the ‘rust-belt’to whom Donald Trump appealed in his election campaign.

“The most common reason is deindustrialisation. Shrinking cities in developed economies are concentrated in a handful of areas across the globe, such as the American rust belt and the German industrial heartland. These places were some of the first to industrialise in the world, but have struggled in the past few decades to work out what comes next after manufacturing and industrial jobs have moved elsewhere”.

But a research article by Manuel Wolff and Thorsten Wiechmann, Urban growth and decline: Europe’s shrinking cities in a comparative perspective 1990–2010 (March 2017) reveals that 20% of European cities experienced shrinkage between 1990 and 2010, whereas 883 cities have faced recent shrinkage.

Three causes of urban decline – economic, social and demographic change

At COST CIRES Conference (University of Amsterdam) Stephen Platt’s presentation: Causes of Urban Shrinkage: an overview of European cities, was based on his earlier 2004 paper. He highlighted three principal widespread structural causes of urban decline – economic, social and demographic change.

  • Demographic – fertility rate, population aging, decreasing size of households
  • Economic – different cycles, de-industrialisation, globalisation, dispersion of commercial activities, macro-economic trends, industry/agricultural decline, energy prices and development of wages
  • Social/Cultural – Status, lifestyle, skills, education, employment, standards of living, migration, households, housing prices, public welfare, quality of life, and social changes
  • Environmental – Climate change, rural environment, landscape aesthetics / degradation • Policy/Politics – taxes, regulations and planning.
  • Suburbanisation, re-urbanisation, sprawl, counter-urbanisation – however these may not be actually causes of shrinkage but resulting from spatial processes of many of the causes listed above.

Secondary outcomes, for example the migration of young or highly skilled individuals, poorer service provision, regional specialisation or house price differentials, may exacerbate or contribute to further shrinkage.

WMNEG’s Andrew Lydon has frequently pointed out how many prosperous and heavily populated cities are on the coast and Platt adds that climate change may also come to play an increasingly role in migration, but that to date environmental factors are not a significant cause of shrinkage.

 

 

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Ben Griffin comments on Universal Basic Income

Approved!

 

 

 

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New Economics Foundation – a message about locally generated energy

This extract from the message sent by Fernanda Balata (New Economics Foundation) is about community groups around the world taking action on climate change and driving initiatives towards cleaner and more affordable energy opens:

“Take the inspiring example of Brighton, which is host to the UK’s first community funded, zero emissions, solar-powered bus.

“The bus used to run on regular diesel, but has since been converted to a 133 kWh electric vehicle by Magtec in Sheffield. It is powered by a 21kW solar array on the roof of the bus depot, installed by Brighton Energy Coop and part-funded by Viper IT SolutionsInfinity Foods and Buddies Cafe as part of an M&S Energy crowdfunding campaign last year.

“Elsewhere in the UK, the company Pixie Energy has just launched an East Anglian Energy Market Innovation Project. The project wants to identify new local models for the energy industry and drive a power revolution in the region.

“But once again, local efforts are facing unnecessary odds.

“The government has already taken a backward step by making cuts to Feed-in Tariff (FIT) subsidies, putting community energy projects across the country at risk and preventing others from launching. .

“The energy regulator, Ofgem, has added to local generators’ troubles. Last month, it cut some of the financial support that local energy generators rely upon to produce power close to those who use it, which helps to save costs across the national network.

“Ofgem says that the level of payment given to local generators is distorting the market and if no action is taken the distortion will increase. But, being local rewards, these incentives were not open to owners of big central power stations, such as the Big Six, who currently dominate the market. In fact, they are so powerful that Ofgem itself states that its decision was driven by an industry proposal.

“Local energy generators help incentivise the transition to local, clean, smart energy systems, effectively disrupting the current model that gives the Big Six so much control over our energy”.

The full message can be read here.

 

 

 

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Universal basic income (UBI): a more cheering perspective

Amazon has revealed its latest plan to automate American workers out of existence with its futuristic machine controlled grocery store.

According to a study by Ball State University’s Center for Business and Economic Research, the use of robots and other manufacturing efficiencies was responsible for 88% of the 7 million factory jobs lost in the United States since peak employment in 1979.

The Economic Security Project (ESP) – a coalition of over 100 technologists, investors, and activists – has announced that it is committing $10 million over the next two years to explore how a “universal basic income” (UBI) could ensure economic opportunities for all. Elon Musk, the iconic Silicon Valley futurist, predicts “There is a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income or something like that, due to automation.”

With political uncertainty across the Western world highlighting rising levels of economic inequality, many others across the political spectrum are considering adopting UBI in the future, giving everyone a guaranteed minimum payment. In the 21st century to date there have been pilot projects in America, Canada, Namibia, Uganda, Kenya, Brazil, Holland, Finland, Italy and Scotland, described briefly in Wikipedia.

UBI – one of three main economic reforms?

James Robertson shared news (scroll down to 4.The Practical Reforms) about a meeting of the North American Basic Income Guarantee Congress at which there was co-operation between supporters of two of the three main reforms in total money system reform – land value taxation and basic income. Alanna Hartzok, General Secretary of the International Union for Land Value Taxation, expressed a hope for future meetings at which supporters of all three policy proposals could discuss the relationship between reform of the money supply, introduction of land value taxation and the replacement of welfare payments by a citizen’s income.

UBI – life enhancing?

Just as Green parties everywhere have said for many years, Elon Musk expects that UBI will enhance life with ‘ownwork’: “People will have time to do other things, more complex things, more interesting things and certainly have more leisure time.” Others, however, believe that without the need to pay for rent and basic necessities, people will not be motivated to work and will not make good use of their basic income and free time. Cynics will – and do – dismiss ‘the happiness agenda’ (Layard, Norberg-Hodge) and the recent Landmark study which found that most human misery in the Western world is due to failed relationships or ill-health rather than money problems and poverty.

If accompanied by a more comprehensive education?

The findings indicate the need for a broader education, giving some concept of good marital and parental relationships, an understanding of the country’s social and taxation systems and the development of expertise (until the Plain English Campaign succeeds) in interpreting official forms and negotiating online applications.

Increasing apprenticeships and retraining for those who become redundant is worthwhile but far more input is needed. The Sure Start focus involving parents and children from the earliest days was working very well until funding was cut by the coalition government in 2011, instead of building on its success.

Harrow mothers campaigning after 4 Sure Start centres had been given notice to quit

There are now 1,240 fewer designated Sure Start centres than when David Cameron took office – a fall of 34 % according to figures obtained by the Labour Party in a Freedom of Information request. The North East and London have seen the biggest fall in numbers, with over 40% of centres closing. The closure rate is increasing countrywide and councils have listed other centres which may well have to go this year.

Compensating for the cost of UBI

A total audit would balance the expense of an enhanced Sure Start programme and the cost of UBI over time, by quantifying:

  • reduced expenditure on the NHS and prison service due to the improvement in mental and physical health
  • and lower expenditure on policing and social services due to less stressful household and neighbourhoods, diminishing the intake of legal and illegal drugs and reducing crime.

So, in the foreseeable future, will 3D printers and robots take care of the necessities? And will basic income lead people to begin to improve relationships with each other and the rest of the natural world?

 

 

 

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Universal Basic Income: “a bedtime story Elon Musk tells himself to help the super-wealthy sleep”

Billionaires’ commitment to lifting a growing underclass out of poverty is just a bedtime story that helps the super-wealthy sleep. These champion a scheme whose prime result will be their profit.

After reflections on automation, Helen Razer says sarcastically: “UBI is a policy gift that Musk and so many others in the C-suites of Silicon Valley offer us as part of their vision of a sustainable economic future.

UBI, says Facebook’s Zuckerberg and eBay’s Omidyar, is the patch for the economic problems of everyday people”.

Some points made in her article:

“It’s just peachy for him and his businesses, as it means his consumers will have more income to spend on his goods. (Not that he cares about money, of course. It’s all about innovation!) . . .” – the mildest of the snide expressions punctuating the article

UBI is ‘something they wish to impose on states and nations – on us . . . a hack that may well benefit its Silicon Valley advocates in the short-term, but compound income and social inequality for the rest of us for decades”.

The idea that an identical sum is paid by the state to all citizens as a right and not as a form of welfare or reward is one, we’re told, whose time has come: “This thing stands a real chance of being passed into national economic policy”.

Helen points out that UBI now has fans from the left, the right, and, in the form of Canadian prime minister (‘and poster-boy for photogenic progressivism’) Justin Trudeau, the absolute center . . . The fact that this prescription can come from both former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum and former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis stands to some as proof of its inherent theoretical strength. If an “erratic Marxist,” a neoconservative, and the guy who wants to send us all to Mars can agree, then partisan consensus for policy enactment is likely. It looks like a centrist solution.

She believes that UBI inserted into our current economic software is likely to raise prices on many everyday goods: “There is no way to guarantee that landlords or merchants will not raise prices to reflect the moderate gain in income. If you’re already well-to-do, a price increase in the residential rental market or at the supermarket is of no great consequence to you. On low earners, it’s likely to have a significant effect”. And ends:

“UBI evokes a sort of realist utopia. It is certain, for a time, to safeguard the interests of a powerful few. But in the long-term, it is likely to diminish the purchasing power of the many. A true social dividend would not be a small state stipend whose terms are set by the billionaires of Silicon Valley”.

WMNEG’s Jeremy Heighway, on receiving this link, commented on Helen Razer’s approach, ‘belittling‘ Musk and ends: “As it stands, I would much rather talk to Musk than Razer about issues of what I once coined “perishable work and lasting work”, in which the effects of work are at very different timescales for different professions. Bus drivers and builders may both be under threat from deep AI and 3-D robotic printing, respectively, snatching away jobs but presumably still leaving profitable companies and owners in place, but it seems to me that we haven’t even looked at how differently these jobs could be viewed in current concepts of sustainability, the structuring of societies, etc”.

 

 

 

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Uplands allotments/leisure gardens Handsworth: 29th June

Malcolm Currie will speak about Uplands – described as idyllic, on the edge of the city and bordering “the lungs of Birmingham” (Sandwell Valley Country Park.)

The Meetup website explains that the aim is to facilitate food production, support education about growing in an urban setting as well as foster small, local businesses.

In addition to regular weekly, occasional and annual activities, current projects include rainwater harvesting, a community bread/pizza oven (help urgently sought!), renewable energy, a bore hole for water, as well as micro businesses.

Future developments could include a warden’s residence, therapeutic community gardens, children’s fantasy gardens, herb, spice and fruit trails, viewpoints with specifically designed seating (possibly as a part of a recovery journey) and a pond dipping site.

For a more formal account of Uplands click here

WMNEG mailing list will receive details soon & OB will host its entry in the Brummie aggregator.

 

 

 

 

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