SOAS University of London

SOAS professor calls for universal basic security for 'precariat'

13 June 2013

Professor Guy Standing, of SOAS, University of London argues for a new approach to social protection in his inaugural lecture SOAS, University of London on Wednesday 19 June.

In his lecture, ‘Precariat and Peasant: Reframing Social Protection for the 21st Century’, Professor Standing will examine the global class structure in which, he says, the precariat is expanding rapidly. Government austerity measures, globalisation and welfare reforms have intensified insecurities and inequalities, and anger within the precariat is rising in counties as dissimilar as Britain and China.

The main theme of the lecture is that in an era of liberalised open markets, a non-contributory base for social protection is required and functional for all types of economy, regardless of level of national income. Without it, the world’s precariat and its peasantry, in different ways, will face chronic insecurity and yawning inequalities. And there are good moral and economic reasons for saying that governments should reverse the trend towards means-testing and conditional workfare schemes, which impinge on freedom and intensify inequalities.     

He will argue a new vision is needed to reflect this precariat’s aspirations and dreams, one that makes universal basic security a priority and defines work as occupation rather than “jobs” or “labour”.  A progressive and more ecological social protection system could then be constructed around principles of compassion, contributions and solidarity. He will also outline why the current unemployment rate is an increasingly misleading indicator of the extent of labour slack and deprivation.

Professor Standing's lecture is informed in part by his work on three pilot basic income schemes in India, in collaboration with the Indian Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA). More than 6,000 villagers have received an unconditional basic income, and the effects have been assessed by means of a randomised control trial methodology, comparing people receiving the grants with similar people not receiving them.

The evaluation shows significant positive effects on nutrition, health, education and production and economic activity. The main findings were presented in Delhi last month, at a conference addressed by India's Minister for Rural Development, who is also in charge of developing cash transfer policy for the whole of India, and by the Deputy Head of the Indian Planning Commission. Both expressed strong support for the pilots and for extending them to other areas. Following the conference, the head of the United Nations in India has expressed interest in supporting further activities, including an inter-State conference at the end of the year.

Guy Standing inaugeral
(L-R) Louis-Georges Arsenhault, UNICEF Director, India, Professor Guy Standing, Jairam Ramesh, Minister for Rural Development, and Renana Jhabvala, President of SEWA Bharat, at the Delhi Conference on 31 May 2013.

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Professor Standing's inaugural lecture takes place on Wednesday 19 June in the Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre at SOAS, University of London, Russell Square, at 6.30pm. To attend Professor Standing’s inaugural visit the event pages on the website.

Articles written by Professor Standing.

'The poor are responsible too' (The Financial Express)
'Bite this: Survey proves cash transfer critics wrong' (Firstpost Economy)