Basic income - an old idea, advocated across the philosophical spectrum which could answer the needs of this time.
The RSA undertook a year-long study into the potential benefits of each citizen being paid a Basic Income by the Government. Universal Basic Income is a payment made to every eligible adult and child. It is not dependent on income and so is not means-tested. It is a basic platform on which people can build their lives – whether they want to earn, learn, care or set up a business. Our report 'Creative citizen, creative state' outlines what a Basic income might look like in practice and focuses on the compelling case for introducing a Basic Income in the UK as a replacement for the current tax and benefits system.
Over the course of many decades the UK's welfare system has evolved enormously beyond the original Beveridgean goals of providing insurance to those (temporarily) out of work, to families or those in retirement. We now have a system that is increasingly complex, bureaucratic, and intrusive. This direction has been reinforced in the benefits system in recent years by a coercive and arbitrary sanctioning system which leaves many of the least fortunate in dire straits. At the same time time we face significant social change, as we age as a society and as technology increasingly impacts our economy and social life.
A Basic Income would fundamentally restructure the relationship between the state and the individual. The major concern is ultimately people: the lives we are able to lead, our ability to have a sense of security so we can pursue our ambition, and our ability to contribute to supporting one another, innovating, and developing the creative potential of society.
Our report proposes an RSA model of Basic Income, which is based on the Citizen’s Income Trust 2012-13 scheme with some important fiscal adaptations. This model manages some of the negative distributive consequences of traditional Basic Income schemes. It redistributes towards those with families – especially young families. What this means in practice is that there could be an easier transition to a Basic Income system.
In the course of our year-long investigation, our work has connected with a growing, cross-spectrum movement behind Universal Basic Income. Trials have begun in the Netherlands and are expected in Finland. In fact, the Finnish Government is designing a national Basic Income system to replace large parts of their current welfare system. There is a referendum to introduce a Basic Income in Switzerland in 2016. Thinktanks on the right and left in the UK and the US have begun to investigate Basic Income (or variants thereof) further. From Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to German industrialists, support is becoming ever more mainstream. A Basic Income is a particular idea whose time may well be coming.