Why Do People Work?

I want to propose something controversial in asking the question, “why do people work?”  I want every citizen to be paid a salary out of taxation, whether they work or not. It’s not my idea—or even a new idea. But with lots of people calling for welfare reform, and with the Welfare Reform Act of 2012 already having disastrous consequences, I think the time has come. Lots of jobs are done by people who aren’t paid to do them. People look after their relatives, cook for neighbors, run clubs for kids, or just look after the garden for their block. Lots of people aren’t employed at all—never mind paid to do what they do. They often long for a jobseeker’s allowance or sickness benefits, but they’re doing what they can to help the people around them.

A lot more jobs are done part-time for low wages by people who aren’t the main wage earner. This includes people like cleaners, caregivers, and private tutors. Single parents are often expected to find a job and pay someone else to look after their children. Then, there are people with hobbies that not only make them happy but also contribute to society or have uses far beyond just their hobby. Writers, inventors, scientists, musicians, artists—they make things of great worth to everyone. When they work all hours of the day in a paid job, these things are neglected, but when they work less (or not at all), they are free to pursue their own interests.

My point is that there is worth in a vast number of things that are not part of work, and yet, these tasks are not valued by people, and the government does not see any worth outside of paying jobs. Attitudes toward welfare benefits are hardening. The press and government have divided people into categories of “deserving” and “undeserving” poor. Politicians say that we should have more conditionality; that people who haven’t spent enough time in work can’t claim the same benefits as those who have worked for years. A lot of people think that people on benefits shouldn’t have so-called luxuries like Sky TV or broadband. They resent these things being paid for by benefits out of taxes. Moreover, government officials have even raised the idea of paying benefits through payment cards that can’t be used to purchase alcohol or tobacco. I think when there are so few available jobs and so many people who can’t find a job or can’t work at all, it’s vindictive to punish them like this.


The question I want to ask is, why do we think everyone has to work in the first place? I believe the answer is that they don’t. In our society, we’ve driven down the cost of production through two things: exploitation of cheap overseas labor and automation. I’ll come back to the first of these later, but what’s the second?

Machinery has massively reduced the need for manpower. We could go even further towards eliminating people from production, but historically, this has been opposed by unions because it puts people out of work. I think that the time has come to say, “let’s put people out of work and automate everything that can be automated.” The leftover jobs that can’t be done by machines should be divided up between everyone who wants to work, thereby reducing the hours of all the jobs until those who want to work have the working hours that they want.

Of course, if we did that, it would leave loads of people without an income. They’d have to depend on a jobseeker’s allowance while looking for jobs that just don’t exist. We can’t punish them for failing to find jobs that aren’t there, although the current system does just that. I say that we should change the way that society thinks about people who don’t work. We have to stop resenting them and stop begrudging them any small luxuries that they have. Instead, we pay them a decent income that allows a decent life, but that would be unfair.

For example, you say, “Why should they get something? I don’t!” Well, there’s a solution to that. “Pay a salary to everyone working or not, deserving or not.” This concept is known as universal basic income (among other names), and here’s how it would work. Every adult citizen would have a salary paid to them by the government, tax-free. It would be enough to cover basic living costs. It would be set around the level that people getting benefits at the moment recieve, taking into account jobseeker’s allowance, housing benefits, and a few other things to pay for it. We would scrap pensions, jobseeker’s allowance, sickness benefits, and most other benefits, and we would scrap the personal allowance for taxes. Instead, we would tax everyone as soon as they start earning. The level of income tax would have to be raised slightly to cover the cost of paying this income to everyone, but since they would get and keep universal basic income, it would balance out for those lower incomes.

Secondly, disabled people have additional expenses and a higher cost of living caused by needing to adapt things around them and the inability to access some services. They would still receive a disability living allowance to provide for that, and personal care would still be funded by government. There would be lots of benefits to introducing universal basic income. There would be no reason to means-test people anymore, and means-testing is expensive. We would have no reason to track people’s efforts to look for work, and there would be no reason to punish anyone for not working, eliminating a huge bureaucracy required to do those things. There would be no stress and fear of losing benefits imposed on people for one reason or another.

Also, “cannot work” or “no work” capability assessments lead to improvements in the health and quality of life for those subject to them at the moment. However, people will object to those choosing not to work, which is why we have to approach the idea with less judgment, although benefit fraud is scarce and the number of people who would choose not to work is low. There are people who don’t want to work and there are people who are just plain unemployable under the current and proposed systems. They would be punished for not finding work and ultimately end up homeless or dependent on family or charity—if anyone at all.

I don’t think this is the action of a humane society. Would it not be better to let these people stay out of the workplace? Avoid employing people who don’t want to be there or wouldn’t do a good job. People who haven’t been unemployed or too sick to work may think that it’s a life of luxury, but having nothing to do is extremely boring, and not having enough money for that nice things in life just plain sucks. In the end, most people will find something meaningful and useful to do, or they will decide that they do want to work and then find a job and pay taxes.

There are many people that want to work part-time, and lots of jobs that only require part-time hours. Universal basic income would let people do that. Where the new universal credit would make it impossible, we must consider the exploitation of cheap overseas labor that I mentioned earlier. The ideal for me would be to see universal basic income implemented worldwide, but I know that’s a pipe dream. I think that by allowing people here to have enough money not to worry, then they can make more ethical choices in what they buy, and many small, low-paying jobs would become less undesirable to people here, especially if they are only part-time. Universal basic income would have to be accompanied by rent caps to prevent private landlords from inflating rent and taking advantage of more available income.

I’m sure that there will be other knock-on effects, but we must consider the idea. The whole idea of universal basic income requires a huge shift in the way that our society thinks, but the current system is seen as unfair by those in work and demeaning by those not in work. There are many benefits of universal basic income. We can save money on means-testing and administration. We can also allow people to work part-time or full-time or not at all. If we allow people to pursue their hobbies and their interests, and we might see innovations and inventions that benefit all of us. This could mean we would get, new books, music, and art. We would let people help others in their community and care for those around them. Finally, we would shift the balance of power from employers to employees and provide job security where there is none at the moment.

Let your opinion be known in the comment section about why you think people should work or not. You can also find some of our posts that answer the question, “Why do people worry?

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