If you missed our last AMM here are some notes from our speaker – many thanks to Barb Jackson from Basic Income UK for an interesting and informative talk and discussion.

Ely, 11 April 2019


Definition of basic income:

– Periodic payment to each individual within a political polity

– Without means test (non-withdrawable)

– Without work conditions

NB: there’s a discussion within the global basic income movement about whether it should also be defined as ‘enough to live on’ but so far this has been resisted, especially in the global South. But even groups like BI UK, and UBI-Europe, which do aim for a livable basic income, recognise that we need to support steps towards that goal which may be less than that. Also could argue about how much is truly ‘livable’ until the cows come home, or what mix of services and money. Despite some conservative support in the US for a negative income tax (means-tested) which would replace all welfare and state services, by far the majority of basic income advocates see basic income as an addition to any services and payments for particular needs, like disability or housing.

Also called ‘Unconditional Basic Income’ or ‘Universal Basic Income’. I also prefer ‘Social or Citizens Dividend’ which makes more sense to people quickly.


A little history:

– In Europe, the idea is traced back by some to Thomas More (Utopia), others to Thomas Paine (Agrarian Justice): both largely from the fact of enclosures, and people losing their right to sustain themselves from the common land. JS Mill, Bertrand Russell, Virginia Woolf, Eric Fromm, Martin Luther King to name a few, broadly supported the idea of a national stipend/guaranteed income in some form.

It should also be recognised that most so-called ‘primitive’ societies do not or did not allow any of their members to starve, whatever they did or did not do.

– The ‘Social Credit’ movement of the 1920s & 30s proposed a similar scheme, which appeared as a ‘Heritage Payment’ in Robert Heinlein’s first novel ‘For us the Living’

– Juliet Rhys-Williams proposed a ‘Citizens Allowance’ in 1942 https://citizensincome.org/research-analysis/beveridges-rival/ and her son Brandon in the early 1970s proposed a kind of negative income tax. Both it should be said were Tories.


Current wave of interest

– Latest scare re automation and the disappearance of many not only working class but middle class jobs

– Stagnating wages

– More precarious work (Zero hour contracts, temporary employment)

– Greater awareness of the need for people in society to look after each other, and the planet


Tests of ‘basic income’ (just some key ones)

– Usually not an individual payment to everyone (the accepted definition of ‘basic income’), but testing making some aspect of welfare less conditional

– Finland: 2016-2018 – 200 people on long-term unemployment randomly selected, given about 560euros a month plus housing benefits. Full results will be out in about 8 months, prelim results of the first year show that people were no more or less likely to find work than the control group, but those on BI felt less stress, were healthier, more likely to trust institutions.

– Ontario: 2017-2018 – ?? in different places – Hamilton, some indigenous areas, etc. with incomes under a certain amount given money which replaced most other welfare, withdrawal rate of up to 50% if there was income from other sources. Cut off after government changed in summer 2018, although participants are challenging it and other local governments are looking at doing their own trials. Inspired by a trial in the 1970s of a kind of negative income tax in Dauphin Manitoba, where particular effects included fewer incidents of domestic violence, fewer accidents and hospital visits, boys stayed longer in education. (Results of this last in ‘A Town with no Poverty’ by Evelyn Forget)

– Mutter Predesh, India: 2011-2013 – 2000 villages, half were given cash of the equivalent of 1/3 subsistence rather than govt subsidies of food and cooking oil. Effects: better health and nutrition, children stayed longer in education, less smoking and drinking, many small enterprises set up, people bought themselves out of debt indentures and used the land and other resources around them more effectively. Women and girls, and disabled villagers treated more equally; community projects started then still pay everyone in those villages their profits. See ‘Basic Income: a Transformative Policy for India’ by Standing, Davala et al.

– Currently the devolved Scottish government is doing a two-year feasibility study into doing pilots between four local authorities: Glasgow, Edinburgh, Fife, North Ayrshire, working also with NHS Scotland.

– Alaska dividend: a percentage of resource taxes (mainly oil) goes to each resident of more than a year, including children. Varies between $1000-2500 a year.

– Tribal dividend: some Native American tribes distribute a proportion of their profits from gaming casinos to each member. Has been best studied amongst the Cherokee.


Current UK proposals for Basic Income:

NB: All of these plans keep housing and disability benefits (as of 2014) in place. All of them eliminate the personal tax allowance. Most raise the high rate of income tax back to 50%. Citizens Basic Income Trust – main costed plan (though many different ones on their website) pays every adult JSA rate (£73.10/week), children under 18 less but substantially more than current child benefit, otherwise current tax structure unaffected.  www.citizensincome.org

Compass – have come out with two studies, one in 2015 and another a couple months ago. Differentiates are costed, and the new study also posits the creation of a sovereign wealth fund to help pay a higher basic income https://www.compassonline.org.uk/publications/basic-income-for-all-from-desirability-to-feasibility/

Royal Society for Arts & Commerce – Original plan (2014 https://www.thersa.org/action-and-research/rsa-projects/economy-enterprise-manufacturing-folder/basic-income) paid £100 to every adult, (CB remains as is); has made a couple of other proposals since working with a sovereign wealth fund, etc.

New Economics Foundation – Has been resistant to basic income, but earlier this year came out with a plan for a National Allowance to go to each adult earning less than £125k/year. https://neweconomics.org/2019/03/scrap-personal-allowance-and-replace-with-a-new-weekly-cash-payment


Labour Party:

Different opinions about UBI, but John McDonnell has commissioned Guy Standing to do a report about doing UBI pilots in the UK, has garnered support of a surprising number of Labour MPs. This will be launched on 8 May 2019.


Potential benefits of basic income:

– No one is left out. Current benefits at least 20% of eligible people not claiming, which rises to 60% in the case of unemployment and pension credit. Disabled people challenging adverse disability benefit decisions by DWP would not be threatened with absolute destitution (cf ‘I, Daniel Blake’)

– No shame, whether of exposing intimate details, whether about relationships or money to bureaucrats, or in general in the wake of the attacks on claimants. Many people go badly into debt (also ruining relationships with family and friends) before claiming

– A foundation for everyone to build on rather than a safety net just for those deemed ‘needy’ – more people would be able to set up their own small businesses, encourages enterprise

– Better health, less stress and therefore fewer diseases of stress

– Reduced social inequalities – non-working parent (mainly women) would have their own money, protection (or escape route) from domestic violence, recognises unpaid care not just of children but elders and disabled people

– In current environmental crisis, supplies need for an alternative to destructive/useless jobs. Allows us to decide what is really worth doing, what is needed


Best sources on Basic Income:

Basic Income Earth Network www.basicincome.org– has UBI-related news from around the world, latest developments, trials, various opinions about it, has a decent search engine within the site. Scott Santens has written extensively on many aspects of basic income (mainly US context but largely applicable in the UK) for the past 5 years http://www.scottsantens.com/

Citizens Basic Income Trust www.citizensincome.orghas not only various of its own plans but reviews every basic income related book or report which comes out in the UK.

Many books by Guy Standing, especially ‘Basic Income: What it is and how do we get it’ Penguin 2018

‘Care-centred economy’ by Ina Praetorius – about a paradigm shift in how we deal with ecology/economy, advocates basic income as part of that. https://www.boell.de/en/2015/04/07/care-centered-economy

‘Doughnut Economics’ by Kate Raworth – again about rethinking how we deal with ecology/economy, also recommends basic income https://www.kateraworth.com/

‘Utopia for Realists’ by Rutger Bregman – makes case for basic income, shorter working week, open borders. Very well written, google name and title and several free pdfs come up.

UBServices: original paper here: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/bartlett/igp/news/2017/oct/igps-social-prosperity-network-publishes-uks-first-report-universal-basic-servicesand best comparison of UBI and UBS here: https://ideasfortoday.org.uk/universal-basic-services-basic-income-promises/


Barb Jacobson

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