Why so much interest?

It is of course a pleasure to be able to report so much recent think tank, political party, and media interest in Citizen’s Income. In our last edition we noted the Adam Smith Institute’s report on Negative Income Tax. In December, the Royal Society of Arts published a well-researched paper recommending a Citizen’s Income scheme based on a 2013 Citizen’s Income Trust publication; Compass will soon be publishing a report by Howard Reed and Stewart Lansley; and the Fabian Society is undertaking its own research. The Green Party continues to work on its own scheme, and the Liberal Democrats have put the option back on their agenda. We have seen articles in The Times, the Independent, The Guardian, and The Telegraph, and on numerous news and opinion websites; an interview about Citizen’s Income with Sam Bowman, Executive Director of the Adam Smith Institute, on The World Tonight on Radio 4; Evan Davis interviewing Neal Lawson, Chair of Compass and a trustee of the Citizen’s Income Trust, on Newsnight; and an entire Money Box Live programme on Citizen’s Income.

Some of this new interest has of course been generated by Finland’s and Utrecht’s proposals to organise experiments that might include something like a Citizen’s Income for small groups of people ( – for up to date information please see our website): but that is not all there is to it. There has been a growing realisation, right across the political spectrum, that the UK’s mainly means-tested benefits system is no longer fit for purpose; that Universal Credit is not only difficult to implement but is also an inappropriate response to an increasingly flexible employment market; that the current system can be seriously destructive of family life ( – see the news item about the Centre for Social Justice’s campaign to abolish the couple penalty: something which Citizen’s Income would of course achieve) – and that in the context of increasing automation, the kinds of economy, employment market and society that we might soon experience could be very different from the ones that we are used to, and that a different way might need to be found to maintain people’s incomes.

Examination of recent reports and articles reveal a particularly significant aspect of the increasing interest. While recent articles and reports continue to rehearse the employment market, family stability, and social cohesion arguments for Citizen’s Income, they do not dwell on them: they move quickly to questions of feasibility and implementation. The argument seems to have shifted from one about Citizen’s Income’s desirability to one about whether it is financially feasible and whether a scheme could be implemented.

It has to be said, of course, that think tank, political party, and media interest in Citizen’s Income does not necessarily reflect public opinion, so arguments for Citizen’s Income’s desirability will continue to have to be made: but the fact that across the political spectrum newspapers as well as think tanks are showing a positive interest in moving the debate from desirability to feasibility suggests that public opinion might be shifting in the same direction, or that it might be willing to do so. The sticking point will, as always, be public antipathy to giving money to everyone unconditionally: but it would only take a few journalists to understand the connection between Citizen’s Income, the NHS, and Child Benefit, for large swathes of public opinion to begin to understand that reciprocity does not have to be about sanctions.