Universal basic income ensures no one falls through the cracks

I share Mr Paul Chan Poh Hoi's sentiments in advocating some form of universal basic income for Singaporeans to sustain a basic standard of living ("Don't rule out universal basic income for S'pore"; last Saturday).

Currently, people in financial need are subjected to detailed - and somewhat intrusive - means of determining their eligibility for financial aid.

An unconditional basic income will eliminate the time-consuming bureaucracy and paperwork that such people have to endure. This will ensure that nobody - whether out of pride, ignorance or inability to navigate the administrative procedures involved - falls through the cracks.

Social scientists have attributed poor financial decisions to a cognitive "bandwidth tax" that scarcity imposes on poor families, setting in motion a vicious circle with deleterious effects, especially on the children.

Families which have their basic needs met may be able to make better decisions for themselves and their children, which would contribute to increased socio-economic mobility, with ripple effects on society.

Women who are assured of a basic income may opt to be stay-at-home mums or take on part-time jobs so that they can spend more time with their children.

In addition, the childcare subsidies that working mothers now enjoy should also be given to stay-at-home mums, who deserve no less for looking after and nurturing their children themselves. This may help raise our dismal birth rate as well.

People who have interests and passions in the creative and other fields which may not be financially sustainable may be encouraged to embark on them, knowing that their basic needs have been secured.

This may lead to a more diverse and vibrant society where all can pursue their passions regardless of their financial viability. Increased risk-taking and entrepreneurship may also flourish.

We should give the idea of a universal income serious consideration on the basis of human dignity and in view of the challenges and upheavals to come.

Maria Loh Mun Foong (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 06, 2016, with the headline 'Universal basic income ensures no one falls through the cracks'. Print Edition | Subscribe