Want to radically rethink the concept of work? Start talking to disabled people. As vitally important as the case for a universal basic income is, as Larry Elliott observes (Robots will take our jobs. We’d better plan now, before it’s too late, 1 February), a debate that focuses solely on the concept of paid work will only take us so far, and fails to acknowledge the millions of disabled people, as well as millions of carers, who go unpaid for the work they do every day.
When it comes to the end of work as we know it, ableism is surely at the core of this flawed perspective. Disabled people have been redefining the idea of what it means to work, to create, to find purpose and to contribute to society since the dawn of time, the majority of which goes unpaid.
While the economics of this debate are the driving force of the argument, surely it’s time to recognise and learn from the radical ways in which disabled people are working, in an economic structure that systematically excludes and discriminates against them. That’s how we’ll come to terms with universal basic income, that’s how we’ll avoid disaster.
Compare Larry Elliott’s article and Aditya Chakrabortty’s (In 2011 Preston hit rock bottom. Then it took back control, 31 January) and it’s clear there are two diametrically opposed ways the future could go. Regarding robots, few people ever seem to ask: who’s going to profit most from their introduction? My guess is it will be mostly the same people who were at Davos, and who already own an obscene proportion of the world’s wealth.
As for “taking back control”, a major task for the left over the next 30 years – and it may take that long – will be finding ways to reconstruct the many communities, both urban and rural, devastated by three generations of Thatcherism, globalisation and austerity. As the Preston example shows, such measures will need to involve practical ways to revive the autonomy and self-reliance of local communities, so that we can rebuild prosperous and rewarding lives for everyone, while at the same time reducing our impact on global ecological systems.
Dr Patrick O’Sullivan
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