Some rather diverse reports

A number of reports were published in a short period of time at the end of April and the beginning of May.

On the 23rd April, Philip Alston, the United Nations Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, published his report on poverty in the UK:

The philosophy underpinning the British welfare system has changed radically since 2010. The initial rationales for reform were to reduce overall expenditures and to promote employment as the principal ‘cure’ for poverty. But when large-scale poverty persisted despite a booming economy and very high levels of employment, the Government chose not to adjust course. Instead, it doubled down on a parallel agenda to reduce benefits by every means available, including constant reductions in benefit levels, ever-more-demanding conditions, harsher penalties, depersonalization, stigmatization, and virtually eliminating the option of using the legal system to vindicate rights. [1]

On the 7th May, the Progressive Economy Forum published Guy Standing’s report from the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer: Basic Income as Common Dividends: Piloting a transformative policy:

The report recognises that a system with a basic income at its base would represent a principled reversal of the trend towards means-testing, behaviour-testing and sanctions that has evolved into Universal Credit. Accordingly, it includes a critique of that alternative, along with a critique of similar directions taken with regard to disability benefits.

It continues by briefly considering the main objections that have been made to basic income, and then turns to the main objective of the report, namely the proposal for the next government to implement a series of pilots, or experiments, to determine if a basic income would have the anticipated beneficial effects, if it would have any negative effects, what would make a basic income function optimally, and what indirect effects could be anticipated if implemented nationally.

As for a Citizen’s Basic Income

  1. It would reduce poverty and inequality substantially and sustainably.
  2. It would make nobody in the bottom half of the income distribution system worse off.
  3. It would enhance economic security across the country.
  4. It would not involve any dramatic increase in income taxation.
  5. It would not involve any dismantling of public social services, and would be compatible with a strategy to achieve public service regeneration, desperately needed in the wake of the savage austerity era.
  6. It would reduce the number of people dependent on, and subject to, meanstesting and behaviour-testing.
  7. It would contribute positively to the urgent fight against ecological decay. [2]

On the 8th May, the Royal Society of Arts published a new report: A Basic Income for Scotland:

The purpose of this report is to explore how, in Scotland, where there is significant interest in Basic Income and a willingness to consider alternatives to the status quo amongst policymakers and within civil discourse, a move to Basic Income can be explored experimentally in terms of the likelihood that it would be effective, desirable and feasible. [3]

On the 30th April, Public Services International published a report by Anna Coote and Edanur Yazici of the New Economics Foundation, Universal Basic Income: A Union Perspective.

This briefing considers arguments for and against UBI and examines what can be learned from efforts to realise it in practice.  It describes different meanings and versions of UBI, reasons why people are attracted to the idea, likely costs of implementing UBI, arguments against it, practical trials in poor, middle-income and rich countries, and what evidence they yield.  It briefly describes a range of alternative policies for tackling today’s urgent challenges, and ends by concluding that UBI is unlikely to fulfil the claims that progressive advocates make for it and that there are more effective ways of tackling the problems they seek to address.  … [4]

And on the 22nd May, Andrew Pendleton of the New Economics Foundation published a rather different article, Imagining a new social contract:

Two particular groups of solutions are gaining ground. One, Universal Basic Income (UBI), is generally understood to be the universal provision by the state of a sufficient, unconditional sum of cash paid to all. The other, Universal Basic Services (UBS), aims to create a collective, ​‘social wage’ for all by expanding public services into areas such as transport and housing, and investing in areas which would bring down costs elsewhere — like preventative health reducing costs for the NHS. Both UBS and UBI can sometimes be seen by their supporters as goals in and of themselves. But we should really see them as parts of a new social contract that requires some mix of minimum levels of cash payments to households and ample service provision. Together these two areas of provision can blend the merits of unconditionality, universality and collectivism into a promise from the state in return for the payment of taxes and participation. The question is not an either or, but to what extent? … [5]

Between them, these reports, all published within a few days of each other, represent very well the current state of the Citizen’s Basic Income debate. The UN report is a devastating critique of the UK’s current benefits system; the New Economics Foundation’s two offerings represent two common attitudes to Citizen’s Basic Income and a variety of other possibilities for remedying the situation, one seeing them in opposition to each other, and the other understanding that Citizen’s Basic Income and a variety of other social policies could complement each other to positive effect; Guy Standing’s report for the Shadow Chancellor contains its own critique of the current benefits system, a discussion of the likely useful effects of a Citizen’s Basic Income, and descriptions of some possible pilot projects; and the RSA report encourages widespread public debate about Citizen’s Basic Income and contains results of microsimulation research on feasible Citizen’s Basic Income schemes for Scotland.

Anyone wanting a brief description of the current state of the Citizen’s Basic Income debate in the UK might find it useful to read the reports by following the references below.



[1], p. 20

[2] pp. 6-7

[3], p.3

[4], p. 7