Universal Basic Income

This is becoming a next-level solution to the impending potential for total automation.

The questions are: once the machines take over, where will people find their identity, their reason to be, if all they have is their work?

The idea is this: scrap the welfare state. Instead, pay every man, woman and child a monthly stipend – whether they have a job or not, whether they’re wealthy or not.

In January this year, the Finnish Social Insurance Institute began its own basic income trial, the most advanced in the world. Across the country, 2,000 people received a letter through the post telling them they’d been randomly selected for the experiment.
The simpler way of paying citizens a basic income helps the people as they do not have to cope with the complexities of the current benefits system. One payment instead of the many, including the hoops one has to jump through in order to prove eligibility.

A recent philosophical debate on the BBC’s “The Public Philosopher” demonstrated that the audience were not grasping the concept of ‘when the machines take over’ as they all argued for work-based identity or community, and completely missed the opportunities arising from machine-based industry. As soon as a machine takes over your role, you are then free to spend your days doing whatever interests you, whether that’s coming up with a new profile tool for psychologist, or gazing at stars through a telescope, or simply watching television all day. The freedom to choose is now yours.

If you got your sense of identity from your work, you will find similar ways to construct yourself once your time is free. It might be community-based, or it might be familial. However you construct your thinking, it can be reconstructed with the relevant influences.

How Much Will it Cost?

If conceived as a replacement for most existing benefits, an affordable UBI would be inadequate in terms of coverage and support to individuals.

For example, a UBI paying £73.10 per week for adults of working age that replaced existing benefits would cost an additional £143bn over existing social security expenditure.

It would also require large increases in income tax revenue – but would increase working age poverty by approximately 7 per cent and leave 42 per cent of households with less disposable income.

Schemes that retained existing benefits and adjusted them to take a UBI payment into account would mitigate against increases in poverty, the economists said.

This would lead to adult poverty rates falling between 14 per cent and 20 per cent of their previous levels, and negligible numbers of poor households losing income.

Such schemes would still require substantial tax rises, adding between 3 per cent and 5 per cent on income tax rates plus requiring the elimination of the personal tax-free allowance, they found. Feasibility studies have had serious health warnings for public finances, suggesting that rolling out UBI on a nationwide basis could cost as much as £12.3bn a year. That is in addition to, not instead of, existing expenses, and would result in a 50pc tax rate for many more taxpayers.

What is the Political Bias at Play?

The differences between the parties and how they view this system is interesting.

In total, 1,111 adults were polled by Ipsos-MORI about a form of UBI that covered basic needs such as food and clothing, but not housing costs. Only about a quarter (26 per cent) of those surveyed opposed the introduction of UBI.

Yet although almost half of people approved of the policy in theory, support for the concept dropped radically when people were asked to consider UBI funding through increased taxation. Support for the policy dropped to 30 per cent, with 40 per cent opposed to it.

Support also dropped to 37 per cent at the suggestion of funding UBI through cuts in welfare benefit spending, with 30 per cent opposing it. The poll found 63 per cent of Labour-leaning adults support the principle of UBI, compared to 40 per cent of those who are Conservative-leaning.

When asked to consider the practicalities of a scheme funded by cutting existing benefits, support among Labour-leaning adults fell to 34 per cent, and grew to 49 per cent for Conservative-leaning adults.

In Scotland, significantly more adults (23 per cent) strongly support the concept, compared to 14 per cent of those in England. However, overall support for UBI is no higher in Scotland than in England, and 31 per cent of Scots are opposed to it.

The International Monetary Fund also supported the idea in its latest Fiscal Monitor report. According to the fund’s modelling, replacing subsidies with a UBI “would result in a substantial increase in the generosity of benefits received by lower-income groups”.

The Research

Once considered a policy belonging firmly to the radical left, polling by the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Bath found that 49 per cent of 18 to 75-year-olds supported the introduction of a Universal Basic Income (UBI).

Dr Luke Martinelli, from the University of Bath’s Institute of Policy Research (IPR), said: “These new data show quite surprising levels of support for basic income in the UK – although this falls when asked to consider UBI’s fiscal implications.

“Our findings are significant because there is currently very little polling data on attitudes to basic income per se, despite a number of long-standing social attitude surveys and the massive growth of interest in basic income over recent years.

“The data should generate interesting analysis on the political feasibility of introducing basic income in the UK – in particular, about potential constituencies of support, and the forms of basic income that appeal to different demographics – important issues about which we currently know very little.”

The Outcome

Despite the universal acceptance of the idea for a UBI, for the UK, at least, there is no outcome other than a philosophical one. We await with baited breathe to find out the ramifications of Norway’s decision and we will make our judgement then. Keep watching this space.

The idea by the original team researching this.

How it works in Finland.

A video by Sky Television

The Independent’s perspective

The Guardian’s perspective