Thursday, 22 September 2011


When I was a child the various branches of the family on my mothers side would all spend time in a family cottage, owned by my grandmother, in a (then) small seaside village on the west of Ireland.

The house had a kitty. The kitty was a cracked old Kerrygold margarine tub, and every day all the mums/dads would put money in it so that we could do the daily shop. There were usually between 10 and 15 people in residence, so that was something of a task.

Granny and our great aunt, who was always there, didn't have to put any money in the kitty. They were old and they'd long since paid their share in cash terms - and they did plenty else to keep the house running smoothly. They went to mass eight times a week to pray for the rest of us, amongst other things. And they played a lot of golf, which probably helped somehow.

Anyway, I digress. We children didn't have to put any money in either. We didn't really have any. Instead, we had to do our share.. we did the washing up, we kept our rooms tidy, we behaved ourselves, we buggered off to the beach when we were told to (oh, the trauma of childhood).

That's how our little society worked. We all knew that, and we all played our part as best we could. Those with money put in money, those without did something else.

The remarkable thing about the kitty was that it was just left there, on the kitchen cabinet, always with a healthy amount of money in it... but it was sacred. We were kids, and we'd happily nick 50p off each other if the chance came, and beg for extra spending money at every opportunity from our parents, and generally do things that kids do. But never, in all my years, did anyone even contemplate nicking 50p from the kitty.

Now, there's a point to this. The Green party believe that the UK should have a 'citizens income' that is, an amount of money, paid for by taxation, that everyone gets.. just for being a citizen. I like this idea. I like the idea of scrapping dozens of complex benefits and tax allowances and simply saying 'here, have this, and the rest is kinda up to you'. Although it opens up many issues and questions, it's a wonderful elegant idea.

But, it must come with a responsibility.. to be a citizen.. to contribute. If one can't contribute with money (i.e. tax) then one must contribute with something else. Now, that might be raising children, or it might be working in the community. Let's not confuse it with 'community service', it's not a punishment. Let's not treat it as finding idle work for the feckless. Let's not have people doing things for the benefit of people or companies well able to pay someone a wage. But let's have local communities, at the lowest possible level, saying 'wouldn't it be nice if we could get this done', and having people, citizens, offer their time to do it.

A little from the left, and a little from the right.

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