Citizen’s Basic Income: a response to poverty

ATD Fourth World has published the results of its Understanding Poverty in all its Forms research project: an international project that is asking people in poverty what for them are its most important dimensions.

A report has now been published on findings for the UK: The list of dimensions of poverty experienced as most significant in the UK is as follows:

Systems, structures and policies: Economic, political and social structures can cause poverty. Policy is operated in a way that disempowers. Systems designed to support people are not working in ways that people want. Systemic cuts in funds for needed services have exacerbated inequality.

Financial insecurity, financial exclusion and debt: Financial insecurity means not being able to satisfy your basic needs. Worrying about money every day causes huge stress and misery.

Damaged health and well-being: Poverty is bad for health and can shorten life. It has a negative impact on physical, emotional, mental and social well-being.

Stigma, blame and judgement: Misrepresentation about poverty in the UK and a lack of understanding lead to negative judgement, stigma and blame, which are deeply destructive of individuals and families. Prejudice and discrimination result in people in poverty feeling they are treated like lesser human beings. [1]

Lack of control over choices: Poverty means a lack of control over choices and opportunities. Over time this can lead to increased social isolation and risk, as well as restricting people’s social, educational and cultural potential. The lack of good options reduces people’s control over their lives and traps people in repetitive cycles of hardship, disappointment and powerlessness. Lack of opportunity and choice increases risk and restricts options. Poverty is dehumanising.

Unrecognised struggles, skills and contributions: The wealth of experience and life skills people in poverty possess is not recognised enough. Too often, public discourse undervalues the contribution that people in poverty make to society and to their communities while facing the daily impact of poverty.

If our social security system were to be based on a Citizen’s Basic Income, [2] then the list could be rewritten:

Systems, structures and policies: Economic, political and social structures can enhance wellbeing and standard of living. Policy can empower. Systems designed to support people can work in the way that people understand and want. Policy can reduce inequality.

Financial security, financial inclusion, and avoidance of debt: Financial security is essential for enabling people to meet basic needs. A secure layer of income would reduce stress and misery.

Enhanced health and well-being: Financial security is good for health and can lengthen life. It can enhance physical, emotional, mental and social well-being.

Avoidance of stigma, blame and judgement: Because everybody would receive a Citizen’s Basic Income, no stigma would attach to it. There would be nothing to misrepresent. Because both wealthy households and households still in relative poverty would receive Citizen’s Basic Incomes, social cohesion would be enhanced. The levels of stigma, blame and judgement in society would be reduced.

Control over choices: Citizen’s Basic Incomes would enhance people’s choices and opportunities, leading to social inclusion, and to people being more able to meet their social, educational and cultural potential. Because additional earned income would result in more disposable income, people would be released from poverty traps, and because additional employment, training and relationship options would be available, people would have more control over their lives. Virtuous spirals of empowerment and opportunity would be the result. New opportunities and choices would reduce risks and deliver new options. The reduction in poverty would be humanising.

Recognition of struggles, skills and contributions: Citizen’s Basic Income would recognise, encourage and value the many different contributions that people make through paid and unpaid work, through employment and self-employment, and through caring work, voluntary community work, cultural production, and so on, and would result in positive social evaluations of these many different kinds of work.


[1] For a history of the scapegoating of benefits recipients, and a discussion of recent peaks in such othering as ‘scrounger’ and ‘shirker’ rhetoric, see James Morrison, Scroungers: Moral panics and media myths (London: Zed Books).

[2] Illustrative Citizen’s Basic Income schemes exist that could be introduced by making a small number of changes to our current tax and benefits system and without public expenditure from outside the current income tax and benefits system being required. ( The two lists above reveal the significant difference that such a scheme could make.