Sunday, August 08, 2021



Unlike, say, professional football players, Team GB Olympians do not receive a salary; but, thanks to National Lottery funding, they are given a training stipend.

A salary is reimbursement for work done. We can debate whether Premier League footballers are over-compensated, or NHS nurses under-compensated, but we can largely agree on what that work is.

A stipend, on the other hand, is a fixed payment for a contribution that is recognised as adding value to the wider community, but is harder to quantify. After all, how do you quantify the work of an athlete, whose public performance comes down to a week or two each year; or when in one event, anything less than gold is a bitter disappointment, while in another, coming well down the field can be a brilliant success? And—full disclosure—I am in receipt of a stipend, rather than a salary.

In most cases (and a full clergy stipend would be an exception), stipends aren’t sufficient to live on—a training stipend might be supplemented by sponsorship, prize money, support from family members, or some other career—but they do allow the recipient choices, including the choice of having time released from some other employment, in order to work towards Olympic glory.

Most of us will never compete at an Olympic Games. But we might add value to the wider community in different ways, just as hard to quantify. The idea of a Universal Citizen’s Income is a form of stipend, funded by taxation, not enough to live on but enough to give the recipient choices: to take some time away from paid employment, to care for an aging parent, or volunteer in the community, or learn a skill that does not relate to your job but reflects a wider interest. Laura Muir, who won silver in the 15,000m at Tokyo, is a qualified vet, who is also a world-class runner. You might be a medical student, who loves baking or dress-making. Or a teacher, who is also a magistrate (an unpaid role, in the criminal or family courts).

And yes, of course many of us earn enough to be able to enjoy a hobby in our unpaid free time—and some of us might even work for an employer who is happy to release us for a certain number of days a year for voluntary service—but an unconditional stipend is a fully-costed investment in human beings, in life that is more than (not less than) our day (or night shift) job.

In my opinion, some form of Universal Citizen’s Income is an idea that isn't going to go away, but whose time is coming.


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