Universal Basic Services

Under the title ‘Forget the Universal Basic Income – here’s an idea that would truly transform our society’, Andrew Percy recommends Universal Basic Services’:

Moving to establish or enhance a service necessarily involves the devolution of power and control from the centre to the point of delivery. At University College London’s Institute for Global Prosperity we have been developing the concept of universal access to basic services as a concrete policy proposal.

Our first report has established that the costs of introducing a comprehensive programme that broadened access to social housing, provided free local transport and internet access and even established a basic community food programme are easily within practical reach.

At first blush an extra 1.5 million social housing units and free transport and internet for everyone might sound madly expensive. But we established that it would only require an extra £20 a week from the top half of tax payers. …

… One of the great advantages of the UBS model is that it can be delivered incrementally, building on what we have already. An extra bus route, a community kitchen or a village public internet service would all make a difference to ordinary people’s sense of security. …

Of course, public services are all very different, so each proposal for a service would need to be evaluated separately on its merits. For instance, free public transport for children in London has meant fewer children walking to school, and children filling the buses adults need them to get to work, which suggests that any proposal for free public transport would need to be carefully evaluated in relation to all of its possible consequences. Free broadband would appear to have no such consequences and could only be an advantage. So yes, additional free public services should be discussed: but there is no logical connection between that and the suggestion in the article’s title that we should forget about Citizen’s Basic Income.

There is in fact no mention of Citizen’s Basic Income in the article, so whether the author or the editor chose the title we cannot know: but either way, it is misleading. It would be perfectly possible to implement a Citizen’s Basic Income at no net cost, without imposing any significant losses on low income households, and without imposing unmanageable losses on any households, so implementing a Citizen’s Basic Income would not prevent the implementation of additional free services, and implementing additional services would not prevent a Citizen’s Basic Income from being implemented.

Universal Basic Services and Citizen’s Basic Income is both/and, not either/or.