It puzzles me why working people should continue to support policies and politicians that favour the rich

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THE history I learned at school is constantly being shown to be inaccurate. It is only recently that I learned that the real reason middle and upper-class women over 30 years old were given the vote in 1918 was not as a reward for their war efforts and the campaigning of the suffragettes, but to balance out the votes of the newly franchised men aged 21 and over, who did not have to have a property qualification.

There was a fear that with large numbers of working-class men now voting, the owning classes would be overwhelmed by politicians who would put the interests of the majority above those of the privileged.

But even with equal suffrage, it never happened, and it continues to puzzle me why working people should continue to support politicians and policies that favour the rich.

I fail to understand why in the UK the Prime Minister, who spent north of £50,000 redecorating his Downing Street flat, should remain popular in Hartlepool where that sum would buy a decent three-bedroom house. I fail to understand why, in Jersey, changing the tax structure in a way that would benefit the majority by taking a little more from the wealthy should not be popular with voters. It sometimes seems that people would rather keep those they think of as the ‘undeserving poor’ in poverty, rather than ask the wealthy to pay their fair share.

There is a myth that the rich have worked hard for their money, whereas many have merely inherited it. The voting public seem to want to protect the wealthy, possibly in the misguided hope that they will one day join their ranks.

So I was rather surprised when, a few weeks ago, Malcolm Ferey, of Citizens Advice Jersey, suggested investigating the possibility of introducing a Universal Basic Income to Jersey.

I wonder what model he had in mind, and how it could be made politically viable, when having a tax rate of 20% seems to be an unbreakable rule? He thought that the wealthy who didn’t need the money could donate it to charity – perhaps forgetting that to make a scheme viable they would be taxed till the pips squeaked.

It is one thing to dish out £100 to every man, woman and child in Jersey to try to re-boot the economy (though I have to say that I would have had the hairdo that I spent my money on anyway) and quite another to give everyone a citizen’s income sufficient to provide for a decent standard of living.

Not that it isn’t a good idea, and would go a long way to reducing inequality. Here’s how it might work. I’m referring to a model worked on by economists Howard Reed and Richard Murphy, which is based on giving everyone what they need to live a decent life and participate in society. (Not all current schemes do this, but it seems to me a necessary condition for the idea to work.)

According to the Minimum Income Standards (based on calculations for the UK in 2019), it would be something like £18,000 for a pensioner couple and £37,706 for a couple with two children.

Of course, with our cost of living, it would be higher here, and there would also need to be an additional housing benefit and a payment for those with a significant disability. This would cut out the need for any further Income Support or State pensions and save money by simplifying the system.

But it would still be very costly, so how could it be paid for? The suggestion is, that there would be a personal allowance on earnings of £2,000, followed by a 25% tax band and then a 50% main tax band. Earnings over £100 000 would be taxed at 60% and those over £150 000 at 70%. This might seem high, but there would be no social security payments.

Some might think having enough to live on would be a disincentive to work, but in fact, most people want to work, as is demonstrated by the numbers of pensioners who continue to do voluntary work – it gives people a sense of worth, and there would be no loss of basic income for those finding employment. But the jobs would have to be high quality and employees would have to be treated well. There may be a need to retain living-wage regulations, as employers might be tempted to pay less if their employees already had enough for their needs. It should not be a blueprint for exploitation.

Is this suggestion, one that would benefit the majority, a pipe dream? Would people vote for it? Unfortunately, I fear that our irrational desire to maintain privilege and avoid taxation means we are not quite ready for it yet.

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