Ben Simmons: Basic income could increase divorce, and that’s a good thing

Campaigner Ben Simmons explains how a basic income could heighten "romantic mobility"

IT IS widely reported that Richard Nixon was scared of implementing a basic income in the United States in 1969 by the increase in divorce rates in Seattle and Denver trial schemes. 

This finding was later debunked when the evidence was re-analysed, but I think that we should be optimistic that if we were to implement a basic income today we would see something like it come to pass.

The fact is that society’s more permissive attitude to 'living in sin' and the implementation of civil partnerships has led to a decline in the rate of marriage as well as the rate of divorce, a consequence both of people living together for longer before getting married and, I suspect, the decreased ability for young couples to take on mortgages and find themselves financially as well as legally wedded to one another. 

If greater freedom allows people to escape relationships and circumstances that make them unhappy as we increase personal liberty, we would expect greater 'romantic mobility', and this is absolutely a good thing for the happiness of both partners.

In other words, the decline in marriage and divorce has come about because of the increased freedom to choose and change partners.

So if greater freedom allows people to escape relationships and circumstances that make them unhappy as we increase personal liberty, we would expect greater 'romantic mobility' (a phrase I am disappointed to find that I have not just coined), and this is absolutely a good thing for the happiness of both partners. What role would basic income play in increasing the ability of individuals to choose their partners?

For starters, a basic income would recognise the value of care work carried out by stay-at-home parents or those able only to work very part-time around school hours. This would reduce the financial dependence of low-paid individuals on their higher paid partners, increasing their ability to support themselves and therefore emancipating a tranche of individuals currently trapped in unhealthy or abusive relationships. 

For example, in 2009-2010 there were almost 52,000 instances of domestic abuse reported to police. The key word here is 'reported' as the real figure is certainly many times that. 

A basic income would recognise the value of care work carried out by stay-at-home parents or those able only to work very part-time around school hours. This would reduce the financial dependence of low-paid individuals on their higher paid partners.

That same report found that one in three young men felt that violence in a relationship was acceptable under certain circumstances. Across the population that represents approximately 800,000 men who, at one time, considered that they might be violent against a partner if they deserved it. 

Abuse goes both ways, with about 20 per cent of domestic abuse cases being perpetrated by a woman against a man.

Aside from the cases of physical violence and intimidation where the abused partner feels trapped by a lack in independence, there are plenty of relationships out there that have simply run their course. 

I am sure that all of us know a couple in that situation, or can imagine being married to an ex and feel unable to leave. Research for several decades has identified that unhappy marriages are worse for mental and physical health than divorce, and even bastions of conservatism like the Daily Mail are reporting that one in four marriages are unhappy and have negative consequences for children.

Increasing the ability of people to choose the circumstances under which they live would increase quality of life for everybody.

There are also other freedoms that basic income would bring about. Conservative councillor Dave Dempsey argues here that a basic income would diminish the inertia that the current benefits system brings about by making the transition from unemployment into work less dramatic. 

In addition, Citizen’s Basic Income Network Scotland (CBINS) highlights the ability for those on a basic income to participate more fully in their communities, as well as providing greater freedom from crime, poor health and poverty.

Increasing the ability of people to choose the circumstances under which they live would increase quality of life for everybody. A necessary result of this freedom would be partial disintegration of those social institutions designed to maintain cohesion. 

We have nothing to fear from new social norms resulting from greater liberty and equality, and I for one can’t wait.

Picture courtesy of Billie Grace Ward

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