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Financial Times; Sep 13, 2002

Income guarantee proposal 'feasible'

By Frances Williams

The idea of a guaranteed basic income for all, once regarded as woolly-minded and utopian, is beginning to enter the political mainstream in poor as well as rich countries, according to the Basic Income European Network, a research and pressure group.

The network's ninth congress, which begins in Geneva today, has attracted 200 participants, including ministers, senior politicians and government advisers as well as academics and policy experts, from five continents.

Systems adopting the basic income approach are successfully operating in Brazil and Alaska, and are attracting serious debate in countries ranging from South Africa to Germany, the group - known as Bien - said yesterday.

Research to be presented at the congress will show that welfare reforms widely adopted in the industrialised world to cut back state benefits and make them more selective have worsened inequality and income insecurity, and have not succeeded in "integrating" people into work.

One in 10 full-time workers in the European Union has earnings below the poverty line and fewer than half the unemployed in industrialised countries are now entitled to state benefits.

Bien said other research demonstrated that a guaranteed minimum income as a right was both "feasible and desirable" as a way to improve economic security amid the uncertainties of globalisation.

"A basic income is in fact affordable; it's a matter of priorities and commitment," Guy Standing, co-chair of Bien, said yesterday, noting that the right to an adequate income was enshrined in the United Nations' universal declaration of human rights. Surveys in countries as varied as Finland, Argentina, China and Russia demonstrated majority support for the idea.

Rather than encouraging laziness, it increased the economic incentive to work by eliminating the poverty and unemployment traps under which people lose benefits if they take jobs, he said.