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Opinion

In a time of growing poverty, there is no reason to also foster a poverty of creativity

Ireland has shown that it values its artists by introducing a basic income for creatives. It’s an idea that should be encouraged everywhere

Last week the Irish government put their hand up for artists. They launched a Basic Income scheme for around 2,000 artists, actors and musicians.

During the pilot, to run over three years, these people will receive €325 (£270) a week. Then they can get on with whatever they’re doing, safe in the knowledge there is money for them to carry on. 

There have been a number of Universal Basic Income schemes in different parts of the world in recent years. Finland, naturally, went early with their UBI project, in 2017. But the Irish one is the first of its kind to target the creative industries specifically.

You could immediately pick holes, of course. Why the creative industries? Why not funnel that money into housing and homelessness?

As in many nations, there is a housing crisis in Ireland. Spiralling rental costs in Dublin have made it one of the most expensive of European cities. But such arguments are always going to exist. There will always be sound and legitimate reasons for an alternative approach. 

The Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, was clear why they’d taken this one. It is important, he said, to “invest in that which sustains us”. He added, “This scheme is designed to recognise creativity that enhances us as a society.” 

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As most pubs between Donegal and Cork have a couple of people on a guitar, and there are a lot of would-be poets knocking around, there are many in Ireland who may have a legitimate claim to be part of the scheme.

Eligibility requirements will be broad, though the final selection randomised. And if success comes, the financial rewards for that success will be taxed and paid back into the system – so say its advocates, presumably trying to pacify questions about value.  

But Martin’s remarks show something beyond such measurements. His is a loud ringing bell about value the intangible can bring.

Important, also, is the idea of no guide existing and no impediment to what is created. If it’s some sort of Ed Sheeran cod folk, or the other side of Genesis P Orridge’s vision, so what? If it challenges and shames the government, go ahead. If it’s great portraiture, or a wig nailed to a lamppost, let them get on with it.

It can only help society when those with a creative voice sound that voice. In a time of growing generalised poverty, there is no reason to also foster a poverty of creativity. Not just because there is a tidal wave of joy that can greet us, unbidden, at the most essential and unexpected time by a great piece of music or art, or a scene in a film. It can lift us from the moment we are in to realise that there is somewhere better. But also because when we allow society to be open to ideas, it can be open to ideas that change things for the better. This will challenge orthodoxy and that is vital.  

Handing money out to a small number of creatives will not fix society’s ills. But you can see things that will grow. And, naturally, such universal help should not be limited.

There must be a safety net for all, so that the grinding, all-consuming fear that poverty brings, the dead weight it fastens, can be lifted. Then, we can genuinely think about a brighter future for all. This is not empty utopian idealism.

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The British Culture Secretary could do worse than look across the Irish Sea to see what is possible. Last week’s announcement of the sell-off of Channel 4 looked immediately political.

It was pitched as an attempt to help the network ballast against the commercial pressures of platforms such as Netflix. Maybe Nadine Dorries believes that. But there is freedom and value in telling less obvious stories that aren’t always mainstream and that aren’t hooked to commercial outcomes.

Besides, Channel 4 is offering opportunities for young talent by opening creative hubs beyond London. It’s levelling up, in actuality. It may be lost.

Let creativity flourish. The results for all can be huge. 

Paul McNamee is editor of The Big IssueRead more of his columns here.

paul.mcnamee@bigissue.com

@PauldMcNamee

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