South Africa: Why It's Worth Taking a Fresh Look At a Universal Basic Income for South Africa


It's odd how we cling to the idea that paid work is a necessary and sufficient basis for well-being - even when viable income-earning opportunities don't exist for close to half of adults in our country.

The South African economy generates vast, maldistributed wealth without the paid labour of about 40% of the working-age population and by paying a substantial proportion of employed workers wages so low that their survival requires subsidies from family members and the state.

Unemployment is estimated to be the main cause of about half of poverty in South Africa; low earnings are a major cause for the other half. The trend stretches back decades and there is no current indication of significant change. Close to one-third of people with paid work in South Africa do not earn enough to regularly afford basic food and non-food items.

This crisis is likely to intensify as the dividend-boosting pressures of financialised capitalism persist, as fossil fuel-intensive industries are overhauled or phased out, and as digitalised and other job-replacing technologies are deployed more widely. In such an outlook, the pursuit of more jobs - and more decent jobs - is important and necessary, but it cannot substitute for a...

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