I’m reading a compendium of nature writing by Kathleen Jamie. In a chapter of reminisces about her life in the 1970s, she writes of dropping out to work on archaeological digs with the oddballs and stoners:
The exams had been no triumph; if I’d thought about trying for university, which was not an easy process anyway, without a knowledgeable family or supportive teachers the idea was dashed anyway.
But you could sign on the dole. You could hide among the swelling numbers of genuinely unemployed, and claim a little money every week. That’s what people did: artists, diggers, mountaineers, would-be poets and musicians, anarchists and feminists. Anyone for whom the threat of a job, of conformity, felt like death.
The dole doesn’t exist in the way it did in the 1970s. We have Jobseeker’s Allowance now and Universal Credit. Doom, doom, doom. I don’t say we should bring back the dole exactly (though it would certainly be a positive step back to a happier time) but that Universal Basic Income be brought in to give the opportunity of quiet freedom to everyone who wants it. (And if you don’t want it and would prefer to work hard for loads of money, a progressive tax system would slurp your share of UBI away so you wouldn’t have to worry about it.)
Kathleen Jamie used her time on the dole (and by the way, we more commonly call it “the brew” in Scotland) to attend those archaeological digs, to experience the world a little, to meet new people, to sense the depths beneath the feet.
As well as being a well-earned break after years of unasked-for schooling, the dole could evidently be a useful airlock between life chapters in which to marshal one’s thoughts instead of foolhardily hurtling into the next thing. It grants the sort of space that is useful to anyone but essential to future writers and musicians and thinkers, people who might make a contribution greater than the gains of typical white-collar servitude.
UBI now please. Or if that’s not affordable, bring back the old-fashioned dole. If it was affordable in the 1970s, it should be affordable in the age of the iPhone.