Disabled People Against Cuts, UBI: Solution or Illusion?

Disabled People Against Cuts, UBI: Solution or Illusion? Free to download

This report begins with an argument for Citizen’s Basic Income (here called a Universal Basic Income, or UBI):

there is an obvious attraction to the idea of UBI as an automatic payment administered without assessments. Supporters argue that with everyone – regardless of income status or disability – in receipt of a universal payment, it could lead to the de-stigmatisation of social security, ending the scapegoating of benefit claimants and associated hostility towards disabled people. (p. 2).

Then follows a series of arguments against Citizen’s Basic Income. For instance:

there is no precedent for replacing an existing complex social security system with UBI. (p. 2)

True. Neither was there a precedent for the National Health Service or Family Allowance/Child Benefit until they happened.

Concerns have also been raised that funding a UBI would entail cuts to benefits and services that “vulnerable” groups including disabled people now receive. (p. 3)

Yes, that could happen: but not if a revenue neutral Citizen’s Basic Income scheme were to be implemented.

The report criticises a number of particular Citizen’s Basic Income schemes: the World Bank’s suggestion of a modest Basic Income, and Finland’s pilot project (on the basis of motivations attributed to the groups behind them); Charles Murray’s scheme that would abolish the rest of the welfare state (rightly criticised); the Ontario experiment (which wasn’t a Citizen’s Basic Income anyway); the Indian pilot project (rightly stated not to be a model for a developed country: but nobody ever claimed that it was); the Dauphin experiment (rightly stated not to have been a Citizen’s Basic Income experiment); the Royal Society of Arts scheme (correctly accused of imposing net income losses on low income households); and Reform Scotland’s proposal (correctly accused of being financially infeasible).

The report then turns to entirely justifiable criticisms of the way in which disabled people have been treated by the UK’s current benefits system, but follows this with the rather less justifiable statement that ‘into this context, the introduction of UBI, replacing a targeted system with universal coverage, is likely to entrench growing inequality and the struggle to survive’ (p. 18). No account is taken of illustrative schemes that would reduce inequality. As for the authors’ treatment of Annie Miller’s statement that ‘both housing and disability benefits are very much in need of revision but are beyond the scope of this book’: they might have done better to have agreed with the first half of it rather than criticising the second part, which is entirely justifiable in a book about Citizen’s Basic Income. The report mentions neither Simon Duffy’s Centre for Welfare Reform’s proposal of ‘Basic Income Plus’, nor the research paper ‘Universal Basic Income: A psychological impact assessment’, by Psychologists for Social Change.

The report has fallen into a trap. It is always possible to find proposals for Citizen’s Basic Income schemes that support objections to the idea; and it is always possible to frame objections so that Citizen’s Basic Income schemes can be criticised. For instance:

The Citizen’s Income Trust … advocate that both disability and housing benefits would need to remain outside a model of UBI – which would mean continuing assessments and, potentially, conditionality for disabled people. (p. 3)

First of all, the Citizen’s Basic Income Trust does not advocate this. It has published a feasible and easily implementable illustrative scheme that would leave means-tested benefits in place. What the report does not mention is that many individuals and households would no longer have to claim means-tested benefits because their Citizen’s Basic Incomes would reduce the need for them; and that any households that found themselves no longer on means-tested benefits would no longer experience their conditionalities. And yes, remaining means-tested benefits would still have stigmatising conditionalities attached to them: but that would not be the fault of the Citizen’s Basic Income.

There is nothing unusual in authors taking a stance and then finding ways to justify it. That is the stuff of politics, and most of the report is of this nature. The one seriously problematic criticism – and one that the authors should be ashamed of – is the suggestion that research that shows that a particular Citizen’s Basic Income scheme would not impose losses on low income households should not be believed because ‘we were told the same thing about Universal Credit and that has proved not to be true’ (p. 20). This is evidence of an approach that takes no account of meticulous, peer-reviewed research.

The report asks all of the right questions in relation to Citizen’s Basic Income and disabled people. It is unfortunate that the authors have not then asked whether an unconditional income is in principle a good idea: and particularly unfortunate because their main problem with the current benefits system is its conditionalities. Instead of taking an entirely negative approach and then justifying it, the authors could have taken a more positive approach. They could have recognised that in principle a Citizen’s Basic Income would represent the unconditionality that they wish to see, and they could then have worked with existing illustrative schemes and their researchers to craft a Citizen’s Basic Income scheme that would respond to their list of questions. To repeat what Ellen Clifford, the author, writes at the beginning of the report:

There is an obvious attraction to the idea of UBI as an automatic payment administered without assessments. Supporters argue that with everyone – regardless of income status or disability – in receipt of a universal payment, it could lead to the de-stigmatisation of social security, ending the scapegoating of benefit claimants and associated hostility towards disabled people. (p. 2).

If the authors decide to take on this positive task then the Citizen’s Basic Income Trust would of course be more than pleased to work with them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Footnotes

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