$3700 a month for doing nothing - but there's a catch

By Victoria Craw

"What would you do if your income were taken care of?"

The often-dreamt of prospect is being posed as a serious question to people in Switzerland this weekend, with the country set to vote on a universal basic income scheme that could see every citizen paid a wage by default.

The monthly payment - undecided as yet but slated to be around 2500 Swiss Francs or NZ$3700 - would be paid to every citizen, for their whole life, no matter where they live.

Those with a job could still work but would have the monthly income deducted from their salary.

Basic Income Switzerland campaigners say the money is simply a human right and would bring people's income in line with the cost of living.

A giant poster in Plainpalais place, Geneva. Photo / Getty
A giant poster in Plainpalais place, Geneva. Photo / Getty

Instead, salaries would become a "symbol of appreciation" and people would be free to choose what they wanted to do rather than the drudgery they were forced to in order to pay the bills.

The group claims it would encourage innovation as there would be more demand for technology to do the "dirty work" in life. Authorities would save money the ease of making a standard payment rather than a complex myriad of subsidies.

"The basic income strengthens the trend to automate such tasks. It creates the possibility for innovation," the campaign claims.

The controversial idea is almost certainly doomed to fail on Sunday when Swiss voters take to the polls on various issues as part of the country's unique direct democracy system where campaigns that gain more than 100,000 signatures are put to voters.

Polls show more than 70 per cent of people including those in government and positions of authority are opposed to the idea which has been slammed as a "Marxist dream" that would see people quitting their jobs and living off the state in an unsustainable and expensive policy.

But for Che Wagner, the official spokesman of the campaign, this weekend's vote is simply a first step in a process of raising awareness.

"It's a long process," he told news.com.au. "This is the first round but we're really surprised how well it has gone....All the bigger political projects in the past have been declined once or twice."

He said anything more than 20 to 25 per cent support for the idea would be "sensational".

"Within seven to 15 years the basic income will be a reality here in Switzerland."

Supporters have raised awareness by unveiling enormous banners across Geneva and Berlin posing the question: "What would you do if your income were taken care of?"

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varofakis has also leant his support saying "think of basic income as a foundation, not a net. A floor on which to stand solidly and to be able to reach for the sky."

But critics say it would lead to economic collapse as people quit their jobs and living costs rose to absorb the free money on offer.

Geneva Graduate Institute economics professor Charles Wyplosz told AFP: "If you pay people to do nothing, they will do nothing."

The amount of the payment is not up for debate on Sunday, but authorities estimate the 25 billion francs needed to cover the amount of payment proposed would require huge spending cuts in what is already one of the world's most expensive places to live.

"It gives time for reflection and creates possibilities for experiences we cannot pay for."

For Mr Wagner, Sunday's vote will mark the beginning of the next stage of a campaign that has already gained huge traction on social media.

"In the next two years the discussion goes on and we're going to start collecting signatures again. I really think the basic income is a matter of time," he said.

"Sooner or later it will break through."

Fifty-five year old nurse Pascale Eberle said she would vote in favour to give her children and grandchildren a "different kind of life" but would continue to work regardless.

"I like my job, but I would work less and do other things on the side," she told AFP.

The concept of universal income is gaining ground across Europe as technological advancements make some jobs obsolete. Finland and the Netherlands have pilot programs in the works and a recent poll found that nearly 70 per cent of people across member states would support the idea, The Guardian reports.

Sunday's vote will also see Swiss citizens judge a plan to speed up the country's asylum process, and decide whether to allow genetic screening of embryos.

- with AFP

- news.com.au

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