CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 18 May 2019

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To work or not to work… a now question

Although not the first to moot the idea, on June 5 Switzerland became the first country in the world to hold a national referendum on the introduction of an Unconditional Basic Income. It would ensure every citizen, simply because they exist, a substantial, life-time income, sufficient to ensure that they could live a decent life.

Part of the rationale foresees technologically advanced societies finding it harder to employ their people in the traditional manner, so new ways of supporting the population must be introduced.

Robots and automation are already replacing human labour and are predicted to oust more in the future, but governments cannot simply tell the mounting numbers of the redundant to go Whistle Dixie.

While the Swiss referendum fell a bit short of the 40 per cent expected support, surveys reveal a much higher percentage of younger people believe that they will see this model introduced in their life time.

The most radical aspect of the unconditional income is that it demands the creation of a totally new paradigm of societal organisation. It is not its intention to pay people to do nothing, but if work becomes voluntary, then the traditional pay cheque can no longer be the only carrot and the big question becomes what new ways can be found to inspire people to contribute to society.

But most importantly, the unconditional income promotes a way of recognising the many unpaid services already performed in society and confirming them as contributing to its overall health and development.

This presents both a challenge and opportunity for Churches, non-government organisations and charities, as one of their specialties has always been inspiring people to serve on a voluntary basis.

But if the Swiss model is ever to become a reality, new types of involvement in new areas will have to evolve in which people can replace the fulfillment of the pay cheque with one of a different expression.

It calls for new models of service to neighbour, country and the global society that can inspire and are not underpinned by financial need alone.

It is also an opportunity, as in a new type of society, new needs will emerge with the paradigm shift in societal construct that will have to be responded to.

Although the referendum failed, it was a bold experiment to place the concept in the minds of people. It at once brings hope to those who fear the scrap heap of redundancy and to governments worried about the development of underclasses.

It is a challenge to places like Hong Kong, which has a good record on employment, but keeps many people in jobs on a level of pay that hardly allows for what is accepted as a decent standard of living and are unlikely to exist in the future.

While the concept stretches the imagination a bit, it has some pretty hefty backers from industry that see the disruption to the traditional workplace as transforming societies.

Caravans are on tour asking people what they would want to do if they did not have to have a traditional type of job. It is a now question each and every one of us may need to ask, if not now, at least in the future. The Church will need to ask it as well. JiM