History of Basic Income politics in New Zealand.

Alison Marshall, 1996.

The Values Party.

The 1975 Values Party manifesto, “Beyond Tomorrow”, was influential in the development of Green Parties all over the world. Policy in the manifesto includes a guaranteed minimum income, to be paid as negative tax, to which “any person able but unwilling to work fulltime would not be entitled”, work being “any service beneficial to the community”. It also includes a wage for dependent-carers, if the dependence is due to “reasons of age or health”.

In 1982 a Values Party group studied a paper by Keith Roberts of the British Basic Income Research Group, and recommended it as policy, but said they needed to research the cost before deciding how much the basic income should be.

In February 1984 papers by Brett Cunningham and myself on cost, amount, and other aspects of UBIs were published in Linkletter, the newsletter of the NZ Values Party. At the 1984 annual conference a universal basic income (UBI) policy was adopted as “long-term policy, to be phased in as quickly as circumstances allow”.

In 1989-1990, particularly after the National Party went anti-nuclear, people from the peace movement and other refugees from the Labour Party flooded into the Green Party (which included the Values Party) and restructured it. They threw away all Values Party policy along with its mailing list, newsletter, history etc. Since then UBIs have been reconsidered, mostly favourably, several times but they have not become formal Green Party policy again, as far as I know.

In the Alliance there is a strong grass-roots demand for a UBI policy, but it is opposed by a few people at the top of the hierarchy, because they see UBIs as a subsidy to employers. It doesn’t seem to bother them that employers receive an equivalent subsidy from a progressive tax system. Alliance policy is that they will investigate UBIs when they become government.

Presbyterian Support Services.

A paper by Presbyterian Support Services director of community services, J. Michael Earle, in the NZ Social Work Journal, 8, 4, December 1983, 2-5, was the inspiration for the commissioning of Paul Grocott “to argue a carefully researched case supporting the concept and outlining the implications of a UBI for every adult.”

The result was the report “The case for a universal basic income for every adult”, by Paul Grocott, Presbyterian Support Services, Christchurch, 1985. It has a history and reference list of work on UBIs in N.Z. as well as overseas. The reference he got from his Values Party contact was incomplete for my work and incorrect for Brett Cunningham’s.

Benefit abatement in a conventional tax and benefit system is effectively a tax. In a Basic Income system there is no benefit abatement, and it should be partially replaced by higher taxes at the lower end of the tax scale. Paul Grocott did not consider this in his costing of UBIs, so his conclusion was that UBIs would be too costly.

Social Credit.

Social Crediters/Democrats have a long history of social dividend policies. Their founder, Major Douglas, may have been the originator of the social dividend idea.

In Feb. 1986 this letter I wrote about Social Credit was published in Linkletter, the newsletter of the Values Party:

‘Recently a medical doctor said that in his experience the media are more interested in sensational half-truths than in facts. I was reminded of the unfair treatment of Bruce Beetham by the media, when he was replaced after many years as Social Credit leader.

‘I wrote to the Listener about it as follows, but my letter was not printed.

‘”Denis Welch, in referring to ‘sour grape juice’ (NZ Listener Sept. 15) seems like many other people to have misunderstood Bruce Beetham, who was not just being a bad loser when he threatened to resign from the Democratic Party.

‘”There was another reason. The new leader, Mr. Morrison, on the night he was elected, implied in a TV interview that the Social Credit national dividend policy was out of date and would be dropped. This was in response to a question from the interviewer which he might not have listened to carefully.

‘”The next day Mr Beetham said he was considering resigning because the new leadership was rejecting basic Social Credit philosophy. Then Mr. Morrison, contradicting his earlier statement, said of course the national dividend would be retained as an important part of Social Credit policy.

‘”I noticed this confusion because, as a supporter of the Values (Green) Party, I am particularly interested in the national dividend. We have a similar plan for a social dividend, with the difference that it is designed to be financed out of taxation. The Democrats’ national dividend policy is (I think) based on credit.”‘

Broadsheet and other media.

In this extract from the 10th anniversary issue of Broadsheet, the NZ feminist magazine, July/August 1982, Sandra Coney writes about their opposition to a wage for mothers:

‘Two issues crop up in these early magazines which were to become major concerns in later years. In the October 74 magazine Toni Church discusses the “mothers’ wage” or “dependency allowance” mooted at the time as an ostensible way of recognising the contribution made to society by mothers, concluding: “Mothers’ wages are largely an attempt to conceal and evade changes in the social structure and in the position of women, and their main effect would be to delay changes in society that would bring about greater equality between men and women.”

‘Although Broadsheet published one article supporting such a wage, from then Deputy Leader of the Values Party, Cathie Wilson, it otherwise took a strong stand against a motherhood wage. Over 1975 no less than five articles discussed the implication of a mothers’ wage; Julie Thompson wrote four of them.

‘Thompson’s first writing assignment for Broadsheet was the editorial of the first issue in the new format. In early 1975 when Broadsheet was running into problems with its loose organisation, she became a member of the first “closed” collective and for some years joined forces with Sandra Coney in editing the magazine. Thompson, a sociologist by training, brought to her writing an acutely perceptive investigative capacity – a need to look for reasons, meanings, motives. These were qualities ideally suited to hard-hitting political journalism and they were never more powerfully put to effect than in her writing on the “mother’s wage”.

‘Opposition to the motherhood wage was urgent in that year because political support for it was launched on three fronts. Firstly, it was proposed by the Social Development Council as an antidote to Equal Pay, due to be fully implemented in 1977. Later in the year the Select Committee on Women’s Rights, submissions to which had soaked up feminist energy in the previous year, announced its support for a motherhood wage. And in November, the Labour government announced as an election bribe a proposal to institute a “motherhood allowance”. In her articles, Thompson showed how the original socialist feminist demand for “Wages for Housework”, intended to highlight the large unpaid contribution women made to the economy and the maintenance of capitalism, was being turned back on women.

‘Although none of the government proposals talked about anything more than a token ten dollars a week, it was the structural and psychological effect of it that worried Thompson: “The known existence of the ‘Motherhood allowance”, she wrote, “builds into our societal framework the expectation that women belong to the role, and the role belongs to women … The horrifying thing about the allowance is that it turned a concept designed to free women into a mechanism to further control us.”‘

Broadsheet and the NZ Listener rejected everything I sent them about UBIs. Some of my UBI work was published in the Auckland Star (twice), the NZ Herald (4 times), the Inner City News (3 times), and Metro (once), as well as in Linkletter (9 times).

In the winter 1996 issue of Broadsheet UBIs are mentioned favourably by 3 separate writers: Leonie Morris, feminist economist Prue Hyman, and Jenny Rankine.

Forums, Task Forces, and Royal Commissions.

The Fourth Labour Government did a lot of public consultation. Among the submissions to the 1985 Budget Task Force, the 1986 Income Maintenance Task Force, and the 1987-8 Royal Commission on Social Policy, there were several papers on UBIs, including those by Pat Shannon, myself, someone in Presbyterian Support Services, and Les Gilchrist and Michael Goldsmith.

Some N.Z. history was included in my paper for the Royal Commission on Social Policy:

‘At the 1984 womens forums, high priority was given to the need for tax and income support for women working in the home, and for more childcare facilities. (1). In 1985 the Budget Task Force found that a major issue was the unit of assessment for benefit entitlement, with 90% of the responses on that issue favouring the individual as the unit of assessment, rather than the family or some other unit. (2). To meet these priorities which have emerged from public consultation, and to recognise the unpaid work of women in the home and the childcare costs of parents with other employment, there should be guaranteed minimum incomes for all women and children in their own right, as individuals. The most logical way of doing this, with the least fuss, is by the social dividend or basic income method, with a weekly income paid unconditionally to every citizen or resident. (3, 4 ). . .

‘It was because we didn’t have high unemployment in N.Z. in the 1970s that negative income tax, guaranteed annual income, and social dividend schemes were considered unsuitable. (18). It was said that “Most families do and should receive enough money from working” (19) and that “vocational programmes, adequate and available health and educational services and other social programmes can if properly directed go to the root of poverty, whereas the transfer approaches deal primarily with relieving the consequences of poverty. In N.Z. where unemployment is minimal and has been for years, we would do better to concentrate on job improvement and enrichment programmes … Large scale unemployment and deliberate economic policies to maintain a pool of unskilled workers has not been one of the accepted economic theories in this country, and the writer cannot see it being one in the immediate future.” (18). . .

‘1. “The 1984 Women’s Forums Policy Priorities”, Office of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, March 1985.
2. “Benefits, Taxes and the 1985 Budget: A Review and Summary”, Dept. of Social Welfare, February 1986.
3. “The social wage, a right for all”, Bill Jordan, New Society, 26 April 1984.
4. “Social Security and Work after Fowler”, David Collard, Political Quarterly, 56, 4, October 1985. . .
18. “Guaranteed annual income using negative income tax”, John W. S. Mooney, in “The Welfare State Today”, ed. G. Palmer, 1977.
19. Report of the Royal Commission of Inquiry, Social Security in N.Z., 1972.’

When I spoke to the Commission I was told by a commissioner that my proposal was “regressive”.

The Commission’s findings were published prematurely in early 1988 to avoid being pre-empted by Labour Government activity. They recommended carers allowances and individual entitlements for benefits. They wrote that they “cannot consider recommending a social dividend system” because of “concern about the effect on work incentives.” However the Government’s proposed regime for taxes and benefits, in which effective marginal tax rates could go up to 98% and “can be disincentive”, was considered by the Commission to be “probably reasonably appropriate.”

Waikato University, 1991.

A full-day seminar on UBIs was held, organised by Michael Goldsmith and Les Gilchrist. The speakers were Bill Jordan, the organisers, Paul Havemann, Nadine MacDonnell, myself, Keith Wignall and Steven Lim. Keith Rankin sent a paper which was read by someone else.

Bill Jordan, a visiting British social worker, academic, writer, and expert on UBIs, also spoke at a public meeting.

Recent Events.

Keith Rankin spoke about UBIs on Kathryn Asare’s National Radio program, runs courses in the Auckland University continuing education program, is a regular contributor to the NZ Political Review, and in many other ways is now N.Z.’s best-known expert on UBIs.

The Manawatu Working Party on the UBI was formed, and circulates a UBI Newsletter. There have been regional meetings and a National Conference.

There is currently a lot of interest in the social and economic role of unpaid work, due to Marilyn Waring’s book “Counting for Nothing” and a question in the recent census.

Alison’s political papers, ammpol.wordpress.com

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