A Universal Wellbeing Payment is the transformative change we need

As the COVID pandemic showed economic policies that put people first can be implemented. It's just a matter of political will. 

With welfare payments lifted above the poverty line and rents freezed governments in Australia showed the change needed for everyone to live a dignified life is possible. An universal wellbeing payment would be a massive step forward to having an economy that worked for the benefit of the people not the profits of a small few. 

Abigail Boyd spoke to parliament about how no one would have to beg the government for welfare and that the payment can work in conjunction with other essential services such as universal housing, universal education and universal healthcare.  This would help provide for people's basic needs, ensuring no one has to worry about their wellbeing or where their next dinner is coming from.  

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (21:30): The ongoing climate and COVID crises have shown more clearly than ever that our current economic system is not fit for purpose. In response, our governments have bent what were previously assumed to be the rigid rules of running a capitalist society, abandoning the deficit myth and handing out billions in income support. More people than ever before are questioning the economic status quo. There has never been a better time to push for a new way of doing things, to introduce new ideas and to fight for long overdue improvements to our economic system. That is why The Greens have developed our own version of a universal basic income [UBI]. We call it the universal wellbeing payment [UWP]. As far as I am aware, I am the first Australian politician to actively campaign for a universal basic income, with a concrete and detailed proposal for what an achievable, effective and transformative UBI could look like.

There will be those at the ready with reasons why this proposal cannot fit into the current economic status quo, but that is the entire point. Done right, a universal basic income is the foundation for a different type of economy—a modern economy fit for the twenty‑first century designed to, first and foremost, provide for every person's basic needs, guaranteeing a minimum standard of wellbeing for all before anyone else gets to skim the profits. A universal wellbeing payment recognises that we all contribute in different ways. Whether someone is a carer, an artist, a student or an entrepreneur, they can get on with what they need to do, knowing that they will be supported regardless of their income. Our ability to find paid work is not synonymous with our value as individuals. Our right to wellbeing is separate and distinct from our right to work.

The universal wellbeing payment is universal in that everybody over the age of 16 receives it. There are no conditions and no means testing. Along with universal health care, universal education and universal housing, the universal wellbeing payment would be a core part of our societal structure under a progressive economy. Yes, in many cases the amount would be effectively taxed back in the hands of the wealthy. But, by making it universal, the UWP ensures people's autonomy, which is vital for mental health, and ensures that the stigma involved with being on so-called welfare is done away with, because nobody should have to beg the government for the support they need in tough times. We should not be forced to wait, jump through hoops to meet conditions, or repeatedly justify our circumstances to Centrelink. It has never been clearer that we should abandon the punitive mutual obligations scheme.

There is nothing basic about our universal wellbeing payment. It is not an amount to ensure that people just survive; it is an amount to ensure that they thrive. It is not an amount that still forces them to take on paid work before they can do more than just get by from day to day; it is an amount that recognises the contributions that we all make to our society and the right of all of us to a minimum standard of wellbeing, regardless of whether or not we also have paid work. And the UWP is a payment. It is not income. People do not have to do something for it. It is an amount they are owed simply for being a participant in our society to spend however they like. It is paid in addition to any support they currently receive for their additional needs or special circumstances, ensuring that people with a disability, parents, carers and other groups will continue to receive more in recognition of their additional expenses.

Importantly, the design of the UWP ensures that governments are not let off the hook for providing essential public services like education, health and public transport. The rate of payment will be independently reviewed and adjusted depending on cost‑of‑living pressures, taking into account, for example, the increasing cost of essential services in circumstances where governments are backing out of their obligations to provide them. Our plan for the universal wellbeing payment is incredibly detailed. We have a website that members can visit, universalwellbeingpayment.com.au. They can look at the Frequently Asked Questions page to understand our proposal in more detail. It is clear that we cannot tinker around the edges anymore. The challenges we face are gigantic: climate, inequality and health. Our economic system is standing in the way of tackling them in any meaningful way. We cannot accept anything less than a complete overhaul of the economic status quo.

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