What would you do if you were given $1000 per month? Would you stop working? Would you travel? Would you start your own business?
If you live in a major city, the answer is likely that you couldn't do any of these things. The amount wouldn't be enough to pay for your rent, bills, food, student loans and all the little fees that add up. It would be hard to go out with friends or pay for a new pair of shoes never mind have money left over to explore the rest of the world.
You would be grateful to receive the money, but you would still be struggling to make any kind of progress. You certainly couldn't save for the future to buy a house and start a family without having a job on top of what you receive monthly. So why is it that those living on disability, who have trouble supporting themselves and would otherwise be in a much worse situation, are often thought of as lazy, cheating the system and having it easy?
Since I started receiving disability about four months ago, my life has undeniably changed for the better. After growing up in an abusive household with an undiagnosed array of health issues — strabismus, dyspraxia and premenstrual dysphoric disorder, a vision impairment, neurological disorder and hormonal disorder — I later developed severe anxiety and PTSD. I struggled for six years on welfare, trying to keep a job, trying to improve my health and trying to apply for disability. Because I so desperately wanted to break free of my abusive family, I strongly considered homelessness and sex work.
While I know sex work is something that can empower others and not everyone does it out of desperation, for me, I was vulnerable as a victim of abuse and saw it as my only option instead of something I truly wanted to do. Instead, after dropping out of university because I wouldn't be able to hold a job regardless of a degree, I tried to get my magazine, FLURT, off the ground and start a career as a freelance writer. But making money off the arts is hard enough without having a disability and just trying to feel fine day-to-day.
After going on disability, I was able to stop moving around, get my own apartment and have the space to start feeling comfortable in my own skin. I started seeing a great therapist to work through issues like cutting my family out of my life, overcoming my anxiety and regaining my self esteem. Little things like being able to buy enough food and pay for running shoes let me take control of my life. I've started to get more energy so I can start running regularly and to take smarter steps instead of drastic ones towards building my future.
In the last four months, having the money to cover my basic needs has given me the chance to flourish rather than just survive. I don't have much money, but I'm so happy to be able to take care of myself so that I can do what I'm passionate about, help others and save up a little extra from freelance to pay off debts, travel and donate to youth organizations.
Being on disability has taught me that everyone should receive a basic income — an amount of money that covers your needs regardless of social status. Not to be confused with minimum wage or welfare, basic income would replace expensive social assistance programs that are right now understaffed, inaccessible and extremely difficult to get accepted to. With basic income, there wouldn't be deductions based on how much money you make or how much your common law partner makes — it would be unconditional. It would be a right that you have for living in your country.
Because basic income would supply everyone with the amount they need to live on, it would be a hell of a lot more than those who live on disability get, and it would work to give every single person a chance at flourishing. It would, in turn, do a much better job at ending poverty than we're doing now and it's no more a radical idea than giving women the vote or legalizing gay marriage.
According to a TEDx talk given by Rutger Bregman, there have been experiments around the world that show giving people money is the most effective and inexpensive way to end poverty. By dismantling the welfare system and putting basic income in its place, studies show that society will experience less inequality, lower poverty rates, lower healthcare costs, and lower crime rates, just to name a few.
In 2009 when a group of homeless men in London were given 3000 pounds per month, they were assumed to spend it on alcohol, drugs or gambling. But in fact, they actually spent very little of it, using the money for things like cell phones and classes, and at the end of the year they all ended up making plans for the future and finding housing.
As someone who's been down on her luck, I can reaffirm Bregman's idea that poverty isn't a lack of character, it's a lack of money. When you're living paycheck to paycheck and dealing with issues such as disability, mental illness and addiction, it's difficult to think about anything other than getting through each day. You're likely not eating well, not in a good mental state and not able to put the time and energy into finding resources to better yourself.
I struggled for six years trying to figure out why I had trouble working, how I could get diagnosed and how to receive disability and the only reason I was lucky enough to be successful was because I was fortunate to find resources willing to help me navigate the process. Getting on disability allowed me to remove the stress around figuring out how to meet my needs so I could focus on personal growth and improve my future, just like those homeless men receiving basic income in the 2009 study.
These last four months have taught me that I need to spend more time enjoying my own life, something I didn't think I had to right to do because I couldn't support myself. While I felt guilty for a long time because our society bases our worth off what we do for a living, I know that I'm working to improve our society despite how much money I make. My magazine and my writing gives me purpose, and I feel a lot more motivated to work on these things knowing I'll still have a roof over my head if I need to take time for myself.
Even though I struggle daily with health issues and receive less money than the amount one requires to live, having financial stability allows me to focus on giving myself a quality of life rather than just trying to survive. My mental and physical health have improved, my overall happiness has grown, and my motivation to give back to society has skyrocketed. Imagine if everyone regardless of their situation had the stability to flourish. Imagine how much our world would change for the better.
While basic income may seem like a utopian ideal, it's actually a very real possibility. In fact, Richard Nixon almost put it in place in the 1970s and it's been an idea that's floated around for a long time. Rutger Bregman knows that we probably won't achieve it anytime soon; it's probably at least 30 years away. But to get there, we need to start taking action by sending letters to politicians, raising awareness about the issue and just sharing this information.
We can make progress by destroying the myth that life is simply about working until you can retire. Why should being able to enjoy our lives be a privilege rather than a right? So I ask you again: If you were given the amount you need for stability to pay for rent, bills, food, student loans and all the little fees that add up, what would you do with your life?