Tuesday, 2 November 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Low Pay Commission
13. To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment further to Parliamentary Question No. 51 of 15 September 2021, the status of the examination by the Low Pay Commission and the ESRI of a universal basic income; the international universal basic income pilots studied as part of this examination; if he has received any interim reports to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52894/21]
I am following up on the universal basic income and the status of the report from the Low Pay Commission and the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI. Also, has the Minister received any interim reports or is he aware of what international universal basic income pilots have been studied by the Low Pay Commission?
As I said in September, the programme for Government includes a commitment to "request the Low Pay Commission to examine universal basic income, informed by a review of previous international pilots, and resulting in a universal basic income pilot in the lifetime of the Government". Earlier this year, I formally requested that the Low Pay Commission examine this issue.
To inform its considerations, the Low Pay Commission asked the ESRI to conduct background technical research on a universal basic income under the terms of the Low Pay Commission-ESRI research partnership agreement. The study will examine the universal basic income pilots that have taken place in other jurisdictions to identify what was learned and what might be relevant to a pilot in Ireland. It will also seek to identify which policy objectives a universal basic income pilot could address and its associated risks and financial implications. It will conclude with recommendations on how a pilot in Ireland might be designed and run.
The Low Pay Commission intends to provide a report to me on this research and its recommendations later this year or early next year. It has not provided me with an interim report to date.
There is no interim report to date. The Minister might ask why I am tabling this question again so soon after September, but I am a little concerned. It is a revolutionary idea. The Government is to be praised for proposing in the programme for Government to have a universal basic income. I am a little worried about the language creep. For example, different words are used. The question the Minister answered for me is on a universal basic income, and rightly so. Then we look at what is planned for the artists. What the task force asked for is a universal basic income, but that has become a working age payment or a different type of language. I am a little worried about that. I am also worried that in a previous response the Minister said he would be informed by that. Of course, we must learn from the project for the artists, but it is not a universal basic income. That is what they requested, but that is not what appears to be rolled out. Again, it seems to be limited to a small number of artists and it would be done through a lottery. I know it is not the Minister's area, but there is an overlap and the Minister said he would learn from that. However, they are two distinct things.
It is entirely reasonable for the Deputy to table a question in November about something she asked about in September. Two months is a long time and it is important that we are held to account in that regard and that progress is made. I have always been clear that the proposal for a basic income for artists and the universal basic income were not the same thing.
I did not like the fact that they got confused from time to time. Universal basic income is universal, meaning for everyone. Any basic income pilot that was just for any one group in society or any one profession by definition would not be universal; it would be a selective basic income. That is why these projects are being dealt with totally separately.
The basic income for artists project is being led by the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, and her Department. That is not a universal basic income; it is a particular basic income system for artists. The research being carried out by the Low Pay Commission under my remit is on universal basic income. Generally, when doing a pilot like that - pilots have been done in other countries - people would be randomly selected to participate in the pilot. To be universal it would need to include a mix of people ranging from the very wealthy to the unemployed, and ranging from people who are self-employed to totally different professions because that is the nature of it. If and when we do the pilot, that will be the approach taken.
It is important to tease this out. From the beginning, the Tánaiste was clear about the distinction but that is what confused me because I understand that the arts and recovery task force asked for a universal basic income. I understood from the Minister that was what was being rolled out, until on the last occasion the Tánaiste distanced himself from that by stressing two separate things. There seems to be confusion on this and I am not sure why they are different. The arts task force asked for a universal basic income. At least what the Tánaiste is saying is clear even if it is not acceptable. When does he expect the report at the end of the year? Will it be published? Is he happy to publish it? What timeframe does he envisage for rolling out the universal basic income pilot scheme? Will it be rolled out next year? Will there be start and completion dates during the course of this Government?
I would hope to have a report by the end of the year and will be happy to publish it once I have seen it. I would certainly like to commission the pilot under the term of this Government. Perhaps this is just semantics and just people using terminology differently, as can happen sometimes. The task force proposes universal basic income for artists, which to me is a contradiction in terms. Universal cannot be for just one particular group. Universal means universal. By definition something that is universal cannot be for any one profession or group and I have always been clear on that.