Universal Basic Income is exactly that, a guaranteed sum of money paid to all citizens that covers at least rent, bills and food, generally reducing to zero as an individual’s pay rises. A replacement to most current welfare payments, this allows everyone to live while providing greater leisure time or allowing them to top up income by working. While this may seem a radical idea, it has been trialled in Finland, and is soon to be trialled in Canada and Scotland. If any party wishes to substantiate the claim that they will make the economy work for everyone, I believe this is an important step in doing so, and I also believe now is the time for the introduction of a Universal Basic Income.
Firstly, we must look at the rise of technology in the workplace and how this effects work and income. For several decades now, the British economy has been moving away from manufacturing and toward finance and services. This has seen a rapid decrease in the number of skilled manual jobs, and advances in technology in the same time frame have seen many unskilled jobs become redundant. This has left many, generally those at the bottom of the ladder, with little or no prospect of work.
This presents two different arguments for a universal income. The first is that these people need to live and survive somehow. The current welfare system is disastrously broken, Universal Credit has been a failure, disability benefits are being pulled away from some of the most vulnerable in society, and rising living costs mean many on benefits are dropping below the breadline. A Universal Basic Income would help abate these symptoms of a failing welfare system. It would provide a safety net to those currently being failed, it could not be removed from vulnerable people because of their ability to work or otherwise, and would provide at least the level of the national living wage, changing year-on-year.
The second argument the rise of technology provides for the introduction of a Universal Basic Income is that it would allow people a choice between having more leisure time to create art or socialise with friends and family, to take on a part time job to top up their income, or to work full time for a higher wage. This would mean redundancy was no longer something to be feared, but embraced, allowing for a more relaxed, happier society.
The second reason I believe now is the time to introduce a Universal Basic Income is the growth of “Hire-and-Fire” culture and the “Gig” economy. Hire-and-Fire culture includes agency workers, who have diminished rights in the workplace and those on Zero-Hours contracts for whom a weekly wage is not guaranteed. The Gig economy is the term used to describe the wide array of jobs that pay based on what “gigs” workers choose to take on, such as Uber, Deliveroo, and City Sprint. These jobs usually involve agreeing to either incredibly exploitative contracts or earning less than the minimum wage. Job insecurity is only likely to rise as the prospect of a hard Brexit looms.
This has led to Britain having an incredibly insecure workforce, with even those in employment not guaranteed a wage never mind an income they can live on. The introduction of a Universal Basic Income would allow the growing number of people in these positions a top up to their wages each week, making these jobs viable. While there are of course many other issues to iron out with these parts of the economy, it would allow those for whom these jobs are all they can work, such as parents or carers, to have a stable income to survive on supplemented by this work if they still wished to work.
The third reason I believe a Universal Basic Income is vital is the effects of rising living costs in the UK. For years, there has been stagnation of real wages, increases in taxes that hit the poorest harder such as VAT and National Insurance, and an alarming spike in homelessness and the use of food banks. In a country that is supposedly one of the richest and most powerful in the world, these developments are shocking if not outrageous. Not only that but it shows that the current economic system is failing a huge number of people, an issue that a Universal Basic Income can be part of the solution to.
As previously stated, Universal Basic Income would provide a safety net or a top up for many people, but in this case, it would also help restore the dignity of many people in the country, allowing them to stand on their own feet and not have to scrimp and save just to feed and house themselves. The introduction of a Universal Basic Income should and does go beyond economic implications. It should be part of an economy built on a togetherness and community spirit, where advance are good for everyone, allowing them more time to pursue hobbies and relationships, and to feel more confident of their day-to-day situation.
A policy introducing Universal Basic Income would begin a movement toward fixing some of the UK’s social and economic problems. It would allow for the rise in robotics and other technology to let those affected to continue living and pursue more leisure time. It allows those with insecure jobs a safety net to work in temporary positions, and gives those in the toughest situations a means to survive and live with dignity.