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The Hidden Work that Happens with Basic Universal Income

December 23rd, 2016 No comments

In the last few years many thousands of words have been written about Universal Basic Income: the proposal that a government gives every citizen a monthly income, no question asked, that covers their basic needs, which acts as a secure base for whatever else they might do with their lives. The aspect that interests me the most about Universal Basic Income is that which, I imagine, opponents of the idea think of as the biggest downside. That if a great many people choose to exist only on their basic income, and not to do any extra work to top it up, what will this do to the landscape of work? Will there be essential work that won’t be done? And will a majority of the population simply choose to sit around and do nothing, perhaps drinking their lives away on (very cheap, perhaps own-brewed) alcohol?

I don’t imagine that the majority of people will sit around doing nothing. And this was demonstrated for me in the last couple of weeks when I became involved in a scheme to help feed the homeless throughout December.

This scheme was started by a woman called Kelly who runs a cafe near where I live. Last year on Xmas Eve Kelly and her husband cooked a lot of extra hot food at the cafe, and when they closed up for the day drove around town handing it to all the homeless people they found. This year Kelly thought she might make the scheme a little bigger, and so put a message out on the cafe’s Facebook page asking if anyone would like to help, expecting maybe a dozen responses, so she might be able to reach and feed more people. And more than four hundred people responded with offers of help (one of which was me).

So many people responded that Kelly was not able to manage making enough food for, and organising that many helpers. So I ended up helping with the organisation of volunteers, and in the end we managed to make use of all just about all this free labour, to the point that we were able send out food and clothing parcels to homeless people all over the city not just on Xmas Eve but throughout December. And with the money raised through donations are planning to carry on with some kind of scheme throughout the winter.

What was interesting was that we had by far the most offers of help on Xmas Eve – because that was the time when people were on holiday from their jobs. Part of the impetus was that people wanted to do something to help others at Christmas time. But when we extended the scheme to more days earlier in December people still wanted to help but were now apologetic, sometimes annoyed, even angry, that they were no longer able to because they would be at work.

I was able to offer my help with organising the scheme because I happen to work freelance, in a job that I can do for only a day or two a week and have enough on which to live. And so I chose to not work as much in December, and focus on the feeding the homeless scheme instead. In fact if I had a full-time job I might not have even thought to offer help, I would probably have made excuses to myself: I already do enough, working full-time, I don’t have the time to help. But I am lucky to have the freedom, and so the energy to do so.

And imagine all the energy unleashed towards this and other such socially-beneficial schemes if more people could make that choice: between paid work, and work that they really valued.

This is one corner of the landscape of work in a society with Universal Basic Income. Other corners will see people going out to work just as they have always done, because they want to earn money to buy the things that they have always bought. But some sections of society will look at the choice between earning more money through paid work and organising their own schemes, or joining in with other people’s. And these schemes will have tangible social (even economic) benefits to society, such as helping feed the homeless, despite their being no economic activity taking place that pays the workers themselves. Better still, the nature of these schemes will be determined by the collective will of individuals, by one or more people saying, ‘this is what I want to see happen, I’m going to go do it’. The barriers to enacting such desires will be greatly lessened, and more work,will be able to take place: all manner of schemes, started simply because people want them to be, with no regard for profitability. That is a lot of schemes that currently do not exist.

Support the idea of Universal Basic Income. Read up on it – Scott Santens, one of the foremost writers on Universal Basic Income, has an FAQ which is a good place to start. The landscape of work in a world where Universal Basic Income is a basic human right is one where our imaginations have a much greater scope for how we spend our lives.

Career Realities podcast #5:
Matt Callard on mentoring, speech therapy and finding work you love

May 15th, 2015 No comments

This Career Realities interview is with Matt Callard, who is a mentor at speech therapy group the Starfish Project. Since attending the project for his own stammering eight years ago Matt discovered a passion for speaking and advocating for the project and speech therapy. In the interview he talks about his criteria for finding both paid and unpaid work (and how pay is not the important factor), about how people are much more approachable regarding unpaid work than you think, and how trying out ten jobs unpaid for a day is much better than trying out one job paid for six months.

Of particular interest was Matt talking about how the fulfillment you take from work is also down to the frequency with which you do it – that even work that you love pales in enjoyment if you begin to do that work repeatedly, day after day. Although Matt was not talking about artists here, this feels particularly relevant to artists: how you might strive to get paid for the particular art that you enjoy, but once you come to do it as a paid job, it becomes just that, a paid job, and the pleasure from it disappears. (It’s something I’ve had a problem with in keeping this website, and this podcast. I haven’t found the answer.)

The Career Realities podcast series attempts to uncover the hidden realities of day-to-day work culture in various careers – the hours, the workload, the shift patterns – and questions the often-repeated assumption that paid work is our primary source of life fulfillment.

(For a more extensive introduction to the Career Realities interviews see here.)

Podcast excerpts:

On asking yourself the question ‘what do I like to do?’

[When trying to work out what work I really wanted to do] I was literally getting a piece of paper, and writing down a load of things. And then I found it quite important in hindsight that some of them much more suited being unpaid, and some could possibly fit with being paid. And again some things fitted with not having any restriction on frequency. I remember thinking at the time that I really like being outdoors, I really like exploring places. But if I had a paid job doing that it’s likely that you’d be restricted in doing that, you couldn’t just go where you want, when you want. So if part of your passion is being outdoors, maybe that fits better with being unpaid, in your own time. […] The most important thing was going out and trying loads of stuff. I never intended being a mentor, but I went on this course and discovered that’s what I wanted to do.

On the importance of the frequency of your own work

So a good example for me is, regarding my speech, I’ve been lucky enough to do a number of things in the last few years that have involved quite exciting opportunities, like speaking on the radio […] But if I was to say I wanted to speak on the radio all the time that’s quite a difficult thing to get in to. It’s possible but actually my enjoyment is in the random opportunities that have come along and because they’ve not been paid or require that frequency they’ve been more exciting to me. Whereas if that was restricted by the need for a certain frequency, or payment, there would be a lot less opportunities. I certainly would have done a lot less of the things I’ve done if I’d needed to be paid for it.

On trying stuff out to see what you like

That’s so much easier to do when it’s unpaid. Because I’ve done quite a lot of work experience when it’s just for one day. Go and meet a few people doing certain things you might have some interest in. You might discover after that one day that you have no interest in it. But that’s quite useful. […] I’ve always liked sport and healthfitness, and I’ve approached a lot of local sports clubs, and quite quickly you pick up, do I get on well with these people, do I like this sort of work they’re doing. And you could get a paid job and realise that after a few months.

On approaching people for work experience

I used to write a lot of emails and go and visit people, just in areas I had some interest in, and people would generally respond I found, just because it’s not a paid approach, you’re just asking them for a bit of advice.

More about stammering support and the Starfish Project

Career Realities podcast #4:
How Can I Work As a Musician?

March 3rd, 2015 No comments

This week’s Career Realities interview is with Dave House, musician, founder of Edinburgh music studio Noisefloor and graphic designer. Dave studied Digital Composition & Performance at Edinburgh’s College of Art, and talks, among other things, about the point when you feel able to call yourself a musician, and the gulf between your creative design ideas at college and what you are actually asked to design out in the real world… (Apologies for some of the sound quality – Skype dropouts!)

The Career Realities podcast series attempts to uncover the hidden realities of day-to-day work culture in various careers – the hours, the workload, the shift patterns – and questions the often-repeated assumption that paid work is our primary source of life fulfillment.

(For a more extensive introduction to the Career Realities interviews see here.)

Podcast excerpts:

On the difference between graphic design college  and commercial work

It was a fantastic course, and I got so much out of it, but I think the thing was when I went into the world I was going to be this cultural mover and shaker, designing all this amazing stuff like say record sleeves, all the reasons you went into it when you were a teenager and think this is what I want to do. And the reality of it is that it’s much more routine and humdrum than that […] and quite quickly I started to think, ‘this isn’t what I signed up for’.

On the expected working hours in commercial agencies

My project manager came into the studio every now and then and said, ‘well, I hope none of you have plans for the weekend’ … and it was just expected. I didn’t mind because I got paid extra as a freelancer, a contractor, I was on an hourly rate. The poor staff who worked there didn’t get paid any extra, they just had to do it.

On being brainwashed by the work culture

[This approach] obviously worked, because once I was going to get some lunch, and I remember one full-time guy saying to me, ‘Oh, eating is cheating’ […] and I’d get up to go home at five past six or whatever, and I’d get a sarky comment like, ‘oh, half day today then’.

Career Realities podcast #3:
the Charity Founder/Public Sector worker/Musician

February 3rd, 2015 No comments

This week’s Career Realities interview is with Paul Richards, founder of charity Stay Up Late, a charity that promotes the rights of people with learning disabilities to live the lifestyle of their choosing. Paul spent fifteen years as a musician in the band Heavy Load, and he talks about combining being a musician with actually earning money, how the band lead to the opportunity to set up Stay Up Late and to work he really valued. Along with how he discovered he really didn’t want to work in a bank… He keeps a blog called Pressure Drop about how to run a charity off your back table.

The Career Realities podcast series attempts to uncover the hidden realities of day-to-day work culture in various careers – the hours, the workload, the shift patterns – and questions the often-repeated assumption that paid work is our primary source of life fulfillment.

(For a more extensive introduction to the Career Realities interviews see here.)

Podcast excerpts:

On the difficulties of making money doing the work you love

Q: Did you make any money from the band?
A: Just enough to keep going. It used to keep us in chips and beer. The band was self-sustaining, and we did some really good stuff on the back of that, we went to New York, we did a couple of Glastonburys, we did some other overseas trips as well, and released three self-funding albums. So we did all the things that we wanted to do as a band, but it didn’t pay the bills in any way.

On setting up a charity

Someone said, ‘what’s the secret to your success?’, I don’t know if it’s success. But I think it’s always thinking really hard before you say no to anything. I think it’s just about being opportunistic, I think that’s what we’ve done, we’ve just seen opportunities and we’ve gone with it. […] Any great general will tell you that no battleplan survives first contact with the enemy. You can have a bit of a plan in life but you’ve got to realise that you’ve got to tear it up and write a new one.

On the ambiguities of training

If you want to study a course, you’ve got an idea in mind that you’re going to be getting into some sort of career in a certain area if you follow that course. But who knows, the amount of people we know who are doing jobs that they didn’t train for. I mean all these people in Brighton trained in social media. I mean they didn’t train for that!

On your personal values conflicting with those of your career

This [job in banking] was back in the early nineties, all the personal loan repayment mis-selling, that was going on all the time, I could see it and I disagreed with it and there was this culture of selling and it was just horrible. So I thought, what I do like is working with people, and what I don’t like is sales targets, so I need a job that’s working with people with no sales targets.

Find out more about Paul’s work at Stay Up Late and Pressure Drop.

How to be a Good Mentee to a Mentor

February 2nd, 2015 No comments

This week I was discussing with a friend the importance of mentors for your own work. Someone who has experience of whatever it is you are trying to do, who can be a good source of knowledge for the progress of your work. To whom you can ask questions.

But how the hell do you find such a useful person? Who actually wants to be a mentor?

I think you just write to people and see who responds. Because I was thinking that if someone asked, I would like to be a mentor. It’s flattering for someone to think you have knowledge to impart. (Whether I do or not is not up to me to know.)

But although I haven’t been a mentor myself, I’ve been around other mentors. And I’ve seen some v. bad mentees. As in mentees who ensure their mentor would never be a mentor again.

So here’s my suggestions for how to be a good mentee:

  1. Be self-reliant. Don’t expect being a mentee to mean sitting around watching your mentor work and waiting to be asked to do something. That’s school work experience, and this is not the same thing. A bored person in the corner induces anxiety in mentors. Mentors are not wanting anxiety from the relationship.
  2. Propose a schedule for your interactions with your mentor. Make it as easy on them as you can. Do not propose, ‘I would like to come and shadow you work for three months from next Monday. I am vegetarian.’
  3. Keep religiously to the schedule you devise. Be ultra reliable. Be more reliable than on a first date.
  4. Don’t act as though your mentor is a parent and needs to worry about you. Act as though you’re working with them and as though you are there to help if you can.
  5. Take your own work with you that you can get on with when your mentor needs to work on something alone.
  6. Set out in your opening email/letter to your mentor how you are going to do all these things.