13 April 2020
UPDATE: JOIN US AT OUR PUBLIC ON-LINE MEETING ABOUT UBI WITH NATALIE BENNET ON SUNDAY 24 MAY 2020 AT 3:00 PM
A Note on Universal Basic Income
Since the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a string of initiatives to help those who are suffering financially because of Covid-19 and the responses to it, there has been increasing talk of Universal Basic Income (UBI) in the media. It is not a new idea, and it was part of the manifesto of the Green Party in 2019. There are different versions of it, but we thought it might be helpful to provide Members with an outline of what it is, in the hope that you will participate in the discussion of it.
UBI is an unconditional, regular payment to every citizen in the country. There is no means-test for it. In this, it is like the state-pension and the winter-fuel allowance, which are paid to every person over a specified age. Its purpose is to support the dignity of each individual, and to reduce the impact on workers of zero-hours contracts and the gig-economy, and, more widely, of new technologies and automation. As it is so simple, it will be easier and cheaper to administer than the present system, including “universal credit”. It will be subject to progressive taxes, in particular income tax, so that those with higher incomes will be taxed on it.
Beyond its immediate financial benefits, UBI aims to reduce structural poverty and inequality and to improve health, that is to provide real social security. This will lead to more opportunities to engage in education and training, and to more jobs. It will also lead to more empowerment of women, and reward current un-paid work by carers. It is awful that, in one of the richest countries in the world, people working full-time have to resort to food-banks, because of the workings of the present system.
Various types of UBI are already in operation or are in trials in more than a dozen states around the world, as well as in three city-councils in England. In the UK, 84% of voters are said to be in favour of it. Last month, almost 200 MPs and peers signed a motion for Parliament to debate an emergency basic income. The on-line group, 38 Degrees, posted a petition for a public discussion of it, which has attracted more than 250,000 supporters; and 100,000 people supported an official parliamentary petition to implement it. Many organizations, like the RSA, are exploring the idea and joining the campaign for wider public discussion of the issues.
With any new policies, the devil is in the detail; and this is why discussions and trials are needed. The amount paid in the UK to adults would be likely to be between £500 and £1,000 a month, with half that amount paid to children. It might be paid for from a combination of sources: these might include the money saved by replacing the present complicated and inefficient system; a wealth-tax; a carbon-tax; and the abolition of the personal allowance under income-tax. People with special needs would need additional support; and housing benefit, carers’ allowance and pensions would be paid in addition.
There is no evidence that UBI would be more-expensive to provide than the present system, nor that it would reduce the motivation to work. Moreover, if the sense of well-being in the country is improved by it, one of the benefits would be to reduce the pressures on the NHS and on other public services.
The present system for social security is not working and it needs radical reform; and UBI may provide the basis for a much-fairer and much-more efficient system for the benefit of us all. The Green Party is taking a leading role in pressing for a public debate and in providing proposals for its substance. If you would like to get involved in the discussion, one place where you can find out more on the proposals, apart from the Party’s manifesto of last year, is Google - just put in “Universal Basic Income”. We plan to have an on-line discussion, and I hope you will participate with other Members.
Chair of Basingstoke & NE Hampshire Green Party, April 2020