Irish basic income for arts workers – update

I’ve already posted a couple of times about the plan to pilot a sectoral Basic Income for arts workers in Ireland.

Today I attended a TUC seminar on this with Karan O Loughlin from SIPTU (the Irish union that covers our sectors) and Mike Brewer from Resolution Foundation who is an expert on Social Security.

Mike talked about his recent academic paper – Did the UK policy response to Covid- 19 protect household incomes.” [pdf] – which assesses the potential distributional impact of introducing a Universal Basic Income (UBI) instead of the Covid emergency measures.

I don’t have too much to add to what we know about the Irish experiment today, but there were a few useful nuggets of information that are worth recording.

Firstly, SIPTU made the case very well back in 2019 when they showed that people in the arts sector who entered the realms of the unemployed than most people, and that they don’t need as much coercion to make them get a job – so pressure from the social security agencies on workers to take any job were more likely to harm their long-term career prospects than to help them.

Treating people who are arts freelancers who are between jobs as part of the general pool of the unemployed doesn’t make as much sense as governments many think it does.


A few other tangential learnings: in Ireland, the process of managing individual taxes in a more digital way (like the UK’s ‘Making Tax Digital’ initiative) has resulted in people losing the ability to use job mobility as an argument for being taxed as a freelancer – something we may see more of in the near future here in the UK.

One of the more depressing revelations was that – thanks to Ireland’s tradition of social partnership between unions, government, and employers – unions are able to have a grown-up, pragmatic and problem-solving relationship with the state.

For example, one objective of arts funding is that employers behave in a responsible and professional way – and SIPTU has been able to get the payment of arts grants to be dependent on good employment practices (including payment of wages).

Well-designed processes to promote good business practices arise from industrial pluralism.

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