The idea of a Universal Basic Income has been steadily rising up the political agenda and has a growing number of advocates across the world. Since 2010 Iran has been financing UBI from oil revenues. There have been pilot
schemes in the USA, Canada, Namibia and India.
In Switzerland, a national referendum on the implementation of a scheme is to be held this year. Pilot schemes are to be run in the Canadian province of Ontario Finland, the Netherlands and France.
These experiments are helping to build momentum in support of an idea that, until recently was confined mostly to a few think tanks, commentators and academics, argue Howard Reed and Stewart Lansley in their new study Universal Basic Income: An idea whose time has come just published by Compass and funded by Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
Support for UBI is now growing in Britain: Royal Society of Arts, Adam Smith Institute (calling it negative income tax to replace tax credits, Jobseeker’s Allowance and other means-tested benefits), Scottish National Party Conference (this year), Green Party, some Liberal Democrats and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has expressed interest.
Reed and Lansley examine the desirability and feasibility of introducing a UBI scheme in the UK, the merits of such a scheme, how it might be implemented and what role it might play in the search for a good society, one that is more equal, sustainable and democratic.
It presents the results of a number of simulations of how such a scheme would work in practice, including its cost, distributional impact and feasibility.
‘There are very strong arguments in favour of a UBI. Such a scheme would overcome many of the problems with the existing and increasingly complex, punitive and unpopular system of social security, which in multiple ways has become a weak tool for social protection but a strong tool for waste and the humiliation of those on the very lowest incomes. A UBI would provide a much more secure income base in an age of deepening economic and social insecurity and unpredictable work patterns. It would offer much greater financial independence and freedom of choice for individuals between work and leisure, education and caring while recognizing the huge value of unpaid and voluntary work.
Central to the case for a UBI is the way it would help prepare us for a world in which the new technological revolution, driven by artificial intelligence and robotics, will, over time, transform the nature of work and the type and number of jobs. A UBI offers a powerful way of protecting all citizens from the great winds of change to be ushered in by the fourth industrial age, and of sharing the potentially massive productivity gains that it will bring.
The big issue with a UBI is not whether it is desirable but whether it is feasible. Would it be affordable, and could it be introduced in a way that prevented losses among the poorest sections of society? Who would gain and who benefit? In an attempt to provide some answers to these questions, we have undertaken a series of simulations of how variants of such a scheme might work in practice. All the schemes modelled are real UBIs in that they are paid to everyone, without condition, and cannot be withdrawn. The amount paid is obviously crucial but can be scaled up.’
They have examined two UBI models. They have concluded that a full scheme that replaces most means-tested benefits would be difficult to implement in the present circumstances, it would be too expensive and there would be too many losers among poorer households.
A modified scheme that leaves existing means-tested benefits in place, at least initially) would raise average incomes at the bottom, reduce poverty levels, significantly for children, and reduce the level of inequality, all at a manageable cost. It would contain a genuine unconditional income and deliver many of the benefits of a full scheme. It would constitute an extension of universality in social security and reduce the volume of means testing by around a fifth. It could be implemented quickly and could be treated as essentially transitional, as a first step towards the implementation, over time, of a full or near-full scheme.
Reed and Lansley conclude: ‘It is now time for a national debate on the issue and for Britain to follow the lead being taken elsewhere to launch its own pilot scheme.’
The full report can be read at
A month ago The Guardian discussed the idea in relation to the particular problem of how to deal with rent, with its variables across the country, an issue identified but not solved by William Beveridge 70 years ago. See:
Stewart Lansley’s co-authored book Breadline Britain published last year can be seen at
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