A basic living allowance

Swiss citizens have petitioned the government to provide a minimum wage of 2500 francs per month, with the same amount available to the unemployed. the cost of living in Switzerland is one of the highest in Europe, after Norway and Iceland. Paying a minimum wage of less than 2500 francs means that people will struggle to pay basic bills like rent and power, and places pressure on the poor in the same way as other countries. Many Swiss people believe that this is not acceptable, and that a basic standard of living should be applied to all.

There are arguments that big companies may pull out of Switzerland if this goes ahead, but that would mean that those companies would not get a share of Swiss markets. That big companies might pull out over paying a living wage should probably get a big ‘so what?’. There will be plenty of others still there, and they have the ethics to pay their staff enough to live on.

The argument that if you pay the unemployed an amount fit to live on would come up here, and I expect that there are Swiss people who don’t understand poverty available to make similar arguments. The truth is, unemployment sucks. People tend to want to work. I’m currently volunteering my time because not doing anything was doing my head in. Sure, there are people that are different, who enjoy being out of work, but I don’t know if they’re more than a small percentage of the unemployed population. Three quarters of unemployment beneficiaries in New Zealand are off the dole within a year, and 95% within five years. I assume there is a similar pattern in other countries. People just don’t want to be unemployed, and it’s not all about the skimpy amount they’re expected to live on.

On the other hand, a basic living allowance for every person does good things for the economy, for poverty levels, for children. People who have money, spend money, without going into debt that will never be paid off. Having a little more than enough to live on allows people to save for big purchases or holidays, or allows them to have little nice things – all of which feed into the economy. It allows people to save for retirement, which saves money for the state in the long term. It lifts them out of poverty and allows them the dignity of having enough money for their basic needs, without the need to choose between food and electricity. And it means that children of bottom-rung workers and the unemployed go to school with food in their bellies and proper shoes on their feet.

Who loses out in this scenario? There is more tax needed, which hits some harder but can be taken mostly from people that have a little to spare, or businesses that benefit from the extra spending that people do with their extra money. The bottom rungs of the social ladder gain so much that the extra costs seem worthwhile.

Would such a scheme work here? Well, it could, but I think at this time there is too much opposition. The poor living with dignity, not scrabbling for every penny cast their way, is just not an idea many conservative types can countenance. To a degree, the basic humanity of people in the working and unemployed classes is denied by people who have never known what it is like to struggle to put food on the table, or had to make the painful food or power choice – or the even less pleasant rent and nothing, or homeless but almost enough to eat scenario.

We cannot even agree on a basic living wage for people with minimum-wage jobs – trying to push through a basic living allowance beyond the infamous $210.13 per week is a leap too far at the moment. But I dream of a future where poor people aren’t treated as less than human, as less deserving of basic human needs than the middle class. I can dream. Reality? May not ever catch up with me.


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