Someone (too busy to read our detailed and authoritative report!) asked me if I could make the case for basic income in 400 words. Here’s my best effort:
Our welfare system is a cruel mess. High benefit withdrawal rates mean people are trapped in a low pay, no pay cycle and ever more sanctioning mean hundreds of thousands every year being denied basic subsistence – no wonder food banks are busier than ever. Poor benefit claimants are much more likely to be punished for failing to follow regulations than are well-off tax evaders.
Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit was supposed to be the answer. Debate rages over whether it will ever be delivered, but virtually no one outside Government thinks it will make the system fairer or help more people escape the lower reaches of the labour market.
There is a better way. A universal basic income payable to all, including children and pensioners, can improve incentives and rewards for work, increase human freedom and dignity, and give society and citizens the flexibility we need to thrive in a world of demographic change and accelerating technological innovation.
At the RSA we’ve spent a year looking at the evidence. We’ve seen how versions of basic income have worked in other places including Alaska where it is seen as ‘third rail’ issue – mess with it and you fry. We’ve engaged with policy experts in Finland, Canada and cities in Europe who are considering their own national version. The global movement for a basic income is growing but it’s still not too late for the UK to lead the world in visionary reform, just as we did when we created the welfare state.
Basic income has supporters on the right, left and centre. The right like it because it enhances freedom and incentives and keeps the state out of people’s lives. The left like it because it is offers dignity and opportunity to all. And we have shown how by keeping the cost down we can sell this bold idea to middle England.
How can anyone argue against a reform that means the low paid keep 67 pence in every pound they earn not the current 30 pence? Who can disagree that people should sometimes be able to choose training or caring or volunteering or setting up their own business over a dead end low paid job?
A basis income won’t fix the world but it will turn our welfare system from a straightjacket to a trampoline.
The idea has been around for centuries but now, today, is the time to make it happen.
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