IT’S infuriating that it has taken a pandemic to put the idea of Citizen’s Basic Income (CBI) firmly on the political agenda, but if it becomes a reality it will be one good outcome of Covid-19, and a particularly good initiative for women.

The suggestion that every citizen would be paid the same basic income by the state regardless of personal circumstances – and that this would replace the benefits system – is not without controversy, but it has many attractions.

The best way to address income distribution is to redistribute income. Simples. The best socialist principles should guide us as we embark on the task of imagining what society should look like after this immediate crisis has receded.

It should come as no surprise that women have pioneered the principle of CBI for decades.

Suffragette Lady Juliet Rhys-Williams set universal basic income out as a less gender-discriminatory alternative to the UK’s Beveridge, welfare state model in her book Something To Look Forward To in 1943. In 1946, thanks to female MP Eleanor Rathbone, the UK saw the advent of child benefit, which is a non-means-tested universal benefit, just as CBI would be.

In her extended essay A Room Of One’s Own Virginia Woolf, born almost 140 years ago, argued for what was simultaneously obvious and beyond reach – that for a woman to truly think and create, she has to be unshackled from the duties normally foisted on her because of her gender.

Woolf put the price of doing so then at £500 a year ( around £75,000 today) and “a lock on the door”. She famously summed up her case: “A woman must have money and a room of her own.”

How would it work? An amount of money would be given to each citizen by the government. The payment would be unconditional, individual and automatic and the right of each citizen.

Everybody legally resident in the country would receive it, subject to a minimum period of legal residency.

It would be paid into each individual’s bank account, although in childhood the amount would be paid to the main carer until adulthood, just as child benefit is today. It would start at birth, and it would end at death. The amount would rise every year in line with inflation. It’s easy to understand, cheap to administer – costs would be a fraction of those currently needed to administer the welfare system – and easy to put in place. While Citizen’s Basic Income cannot be viewed as a cure for all the ills in society, it does have the potential to be a tool to move us towards gender equality.

Here are the top five reasons feminists should support CBI:

1. Women are the most likely to be poor.

2. Women are the most likely to be prostituted, trafficked or abused.

3. Women are the most likely to be main carers of children and that is expensive and time-consuming.

4. Women are the most likely to be the victims of domestic violence.

5.Where there is inequality, women will be most effected.

Desperation is a condition all too familiar in many communities, with women almost always being the ones left to pick up the pieces. The fact that CBI would be paid to everyone would remove any social stigma attached to receiving public money.

Prostitution, pornography and the exploitation of women and girls through human trafficking are not just a criminal issue, they are the result of economic vulnerability, and CBI could be a tool to strike at the very root of the problem.

It would provide empowerment and emancipation by giving vulnerable women the financial ability to say no to prostitution. After all, the choices we make as a country, as a family and as an individual are all managed by our ability to say no. Without that ability, nothing is a free choice. Few women enter prostitition becaue they want to ... it’s a decision forced on them through poverty. CBI would give them alternatives.

And not just alternatives to prostitution. While women don’t have the money to pay the rent or put food on the table, some of us will have to make choices that we don’t want to make, to do things we would not otherwise wish to do, to keep going to the job that crushes our soul, stay silent when we would prefer to speak, stay with the abusive husband that we would rather leave.

Citizen’s Basic Income is of real value to some of the most vulnerable women in society: victims of domestic violence and abuse.

The travesty of justice inflicted on WASPI women would be alleviated by CBI as this would ensure these women were not trapped into humiliating, very low unemployment benefit instead of the pension they were promised. In a society obsessed with youth and vitality and in which not enough respect is given to experience and intelligence, some of these women have little chance of gaining employment and are falling through the gaps.

A universal basic income might smooth the way to more gradual retirement, through a phased disengagement from waged work. This could be a significant result for many women.

THOSE living on the edge of poverty or within it experience far greater amounts of stress, and that stress manifests itself in a variety of ways, one of which is taking matters out on family members, both mentally and physically. The stress caused by inequality is felt particularly keenly by women who still pick up the majority of domestic duties in many households.

Of course, CBI would also help tackle wider social issues. Good evidenced-based drug policy also means that drug deaths and addictions would be lessened with CBI. According to addiction expert Dr Gabor Maté, it’s important to understand that most poor drug users aren’t poor because they use drugs, but they use drugs because they are poor. So If you look at it that way, it’s much easier to understand what kind of potential effect a basic income would have on drug use.

And even where CBI specifically impacts on women, there are potential problems. We would need to be careful, for instance, that guaranteeing women a basic income doesn’t increase societal pessure to force us out of the workplace and back to domestic duties at home.

If there is a silver lining to the cloud that is Covid-19, it may be that the unseen and largely unacknowledged workload of women is becoming more visible. All over the country the arrangements that have been put in place by women to enable us to work and look after our kids are being dismantled. Schools and nurseries are closed and grandparents socially isolating in a different house. The so often unseen and unpaid support systems have evaporated and in doing so have become obvious by their abscence.

Most modern families are trying to split the workload and childcare but the reality is it’s almost impossible to work properly whilst looking after toddlers and home schooling.

In households where a male earns more – and shamefully that’s still most households – it can seem to make financial sense to prioritise hiswork. Dinner and shopping and housework and homeschooling are falling to women disproportionately.

That’s why it’s essential to bring a feminist perspective to discussions around CBI which can shine a light on gender dynamics in a deeply gendered society.

Whilst it’s a great thing that CBI is now being taken seriously by politicians, powerful men and celebrities such as Elon Musk as a way of boosting a flat-lining economy, let’s not forget the women who pioneered this idea, the social reasons why they did so and the need to put women at the centre of any economic discussions so that decisions about us are no longer made without us.