1 Year On Basic Income

Conor Matthews
6 min readOct 29, 2023

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The Basic Income For The Arts is a pilot scheme run by the Department Of Arts in Ireland that has selected 2,000 volunteer artists, creatives, and art-workers to participant in a 3-year-long study to record and report the effects of a Basic Income scheme on the artistic/creative industries and practitioners of Ireland. The scheme official began in October 2022 and will continue until August 2025.

I am one of those lucky creative selected. I was working a hard job, in financial straits, and with dwindling prospects in my life. When I got the good news, after I allowed myself a moment to gleefully jump with joy before handing in my two-weeks. Technically, I could have kept the job, or even found a different job, and still received the payment, but this was an opportunity I had been dreaming of. I primarily write, but have skills and produced in fields like video production, editing, 3D modelling, and some graphic skills. In short, a Jack of all trades. This scheme proved to be a chance to indulge in my creative pursuits while being able to hold my head high that I wasn’t just a loser who couldn’t give up the day job. I was now being paid to write and create. I could put on my tax forms and occupation fields “creative”.

A year has passed, and in that time I’ve written and pitched scripts, written, narrated, and produced a horror audio-drama, The Trees Swallow People, and been represented by managers (sadly now defunct). In the last year of the BI scheme, I’ve found things that act as both promising and concerning traits on BI to bare in mind. Yes, the scheme is for 3 years, so it’s still early days, but whether you’re interested in the concept and future of BI, the pros and cons for supporting the arts, or just want a retrospective as we all begin to end the end of the year, I think you may find the following enlightening.

Productivity

As part of this scheme, I have to keep track of my time spent on work, homelife, day job (if there is one), etc. Before this, I would have thought every waking second was dedicated to my craft. That’s how it felt, anyway. So you can imagine my humbling surprise when I completed my first week and found I worked less than 5 hours on my projects. Though disappointing, it was a benchmark to compare myself to going on.

And I surpassed it!

Now I spend at least 14 hours a week on average on my projects, with my best week clocking in at 31 hours! My productivity nearly tripled! Could I have had the same results without leaving work and using BI for retreats? Maybe, but that average wouldn’t have risen as much or as quick as it did.

Hours a week spent on projects

Drops in productivity were due to periods between the end of one project and the beginning on another. Amusingly, spikes (17, 21, 31, 22 hours) happened when I was left alone the most. I have proof that some people can be a LITERALLY waste of time!

Manageable

Things aren’t easier, they’re just more manageable. Recipients are paid monthly. We are all taxed. All payments are once-off; there’s no overtime, no sick pay, no company insurance. You need to plan for expenses and taxes, but that also means some expenses can be tax deducted.

BI is a foundation from which a life can be built upon. Before I left, my last job was as a hotel night porter. I worked from night until 10 O'clock in the morning, pay was inconsistent, and guests could make things difficult. Could I had stayed? Short answer, yes. Could I have found another job? Yes again. And could I just give up and spend 3 years living off BI doing nothing? Again, yes. My point is for the first time in my life I finally had those options, to stay, to go, to take a risk. I decided to go whole hog and take advantage of an opportunity that may never come around again. I wouldn’t have had any options if it wasn’t for BI. Like I said, it doesn’t make things easier, but more manageable.

Issues

Now it hasn’t all been easy. When you essentially get to be your own boss, you can give yourself a break or go easy on yourself, but it also means you sudden have a balancing act to perfect very quickly. Do to much, and you burn out. Not enough and you get lazy. I have been on both ends. I’ve run myself so hard, staying awake all night, working for hours, feeling like I have to take advantage of this amazing opportunity I’ve been given. The result has been burn out and depression last anywhere between days and weeks.

But unfortunately going easy has issues too, namely laziness, physically speaking. Exercise will suddenly become more important. While the daily commute and grind may seem like you’re mostly sitting, you’re not realising how much you’re moving. Sit, stand, walk here, walk there, up the stairs, stretch, do a coffee run, lift this or that. All that goes away when you can work in bed. I worked in bed one day, just one day… MY BACK WAS DESTROYED FOR A WEEK! You need to move. Trust me, you will put on weight.

But by far the worst part of this flexibility has been how no one understands that you are in fact working. I have explained and requested not to be disturbed while I’m working. I have taken care or chores and dinner just so there’s no reason for me to be called. I have even announced “Ok, I’m going to start working now”, and still people think nothing of disturbing you for everything; asking for food, telling you about something unimportant, and even starting with “oh good, you’re not busy”. I understand why; our concept of work is tied to unavailability. If I can see you, you must not be working. But I don’t have the luxury of a spare room or home office, and to work at a hot-desk or café can cost between €10–25 a day. This is only further heightened by the fact few have experience with how time expensive creative careers can be; paint doesn’t stay wet for you to pick up milk, nor can you easily reenter a flow state after your boyfriend interrupts you to ask did you know so-and-so died (you know, the one in that movie, with the guy).

The line between work and home definitely blurs, but all the more reason you need to have restraint, planning, and patience (with yourself and other people).

Takeaway

One year ago I wasn’t sure what was happening in my life. There was a major death in the family, I got Covid, I was kicked off welfare, and I was working a tough, draining job that was beginning to strain my relationships. Then I and 1,999 other creatives were tossed a life-line; a helping hand to produce and create out art. In a year I had management representation, time and resources award to narrate and produce a horror audio-drama (The Trees Swallow People), and the time to think and create. Yes, it’s only been a year, yet that year has more to show for itself than any other. I’m happier, more optimistic, and proud of myself. The pilot scheme isn’t half-way over yet, and there is much to uncover still, but the past year has proven to be the most productive, enlightening, and promising of my life.

Photo by Immo Wegmann on Unsplash

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