Malcolm Torry, Why we need a Citizen’s Basic Income

Malcolm Torry, Why we need a Citizen’s Basic Income, Policy Press, 2018, xxii + 279 pp, 1 4473 4317 2, £24.99. The chapter abstracts of the book can be accessed for free here.

This is an important book for three reasons: on its own account; as an update to Malcolm Torry’s previous publications on Basic Income – especially Money for Everyone: Why we need a Citizen’s Income (Policy Press, 2013); 101 Reasons for a Citizen’s Income (Policy Press, 2015), The Feasibility of Citizen’s Income (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), and Citizen’s Basic Income: A Christian social policy (Darton, Longman and Todd, 2016); and as a contribution and indicator of the rising tide of interest in this concept. While it is a book unashamedly advocating the introduction of a citizen’s basic income, the strength of its contribution lies in the forensic analyses of the failings of the current systems for welfare and social protection, the inequities of the labour market and their lack of capacity to address poverty and inequality.

As with companion volumes in this field, the book opens with a detailed exploration of the terminology inherent to considering the social security system and then continues throughout with a professional and academic approach to examining the causes of poverty, the possibilities for change and the potential for a citizen’s basic income to start tackling some of society’s ills. He begins, however, by inviting those of us who have well-paid jobs and pensions to imagine how life is for those made redundant, unemployed, the lone parent who must navigate their way through the benefit system; or for those who can recall their own families’ earlier struggles. Then he proposes a different world where a different value system, and so society, can be allowed to flourish. By encouraging the reader to contrast the imagined country with the failed context of today, he is reorientating the discourse away from merely critiquing the Anglo-Saxon neoliberal welfare state towards their own vision of what a humane and nourishing environment would offer. The role of a basic income is then introduced to that analytical framework, presenting this as an instrument of support and redistribution.

The discussion evolves through exploring the development of the current social security system, the economic and labour market context in which we live and work, with its deterioration into precarious employment for many, and the impacts on and changing circumstances of families and individuals. This establishes the case for how a basic income could transform lives, with an improved and much more efficient administration of social protection, focused on delivering a socially and economically superior distribution of income, wealth and power. The feasibility, challenges and implementation issues associated with differing models of basic income are presented and examined, with descriptions offered of experiments from around the world. With the number and range of pilots rising, the cataloguing of their varying levels, coverage and types demonstrates the capacity to answer many of the research and practical questions that are inherent to considering wider implementation. Many of these analyses, however, are small scale and time-limited so necessarily restricting the understanding and knowledge creation they generate. Reviewing interactions between basic income and taxation at different levels of income, across occupations and family types can only be attempted through modelling, borrowing from mainstream partial economic analyses of tax and benefit changes, and other indirect means. Nevertheless, the chapter on ‘objections’ and a technical appendix introduce how some of these affordability elements to the introduction of a basic income for all could be investigated and analysed.

The brief Afterword then reminds us of the opposition to the state supporting raising children through family allowances, and could have added in a host of other barriers to the provision of compulsory secondary schooling, universal health care, etc. Malcolm Torry argues that basic income is a concept whose time has come and implementation should follow, soonest. This is not a book written as a manifesto from one of the fanatic ‘cranks and utopians’ but rather a  well-written, accessible and convincing introduction to the concept, rationale and challenges of a basic income. It also offers an entry for the lay person, academic and engaged practitioner and policymaker into the literature and discourse that is increasingly illuminating and promoting this contribution to a better nation and world.


Professor Mike Danson, Heriot-Watt University and Chair CBINS (Citizen’s Basic Income Network Scotland)