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Universal Basic Income Floated to Counter UK's Austerity-Driven Cuts

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas has called on the UK government to commission research into the societal effects of universal basic income and examine its feasibility to replace Britain's existing social security system. (Photo: Tristan Martin/flickr/cc)

Universal Basic Income Floated to Counter UK's Austerity-Driven Cuts

Offering unconditional pay to all citizens allows 'people the freedom and flexibility to do more of what they want to do,' says UK politician

Deirdre Fulton

The UK Labour Party is considering proposing a universal basic income that would be paid unconditionally to all citizens, news outlets reported on Wednesday. 

According to The Independent, shadow chancellor John McDonnell said during a talk at the London School of Economics on Tuesday night that the party would not rule out unconditional pay for all members of society.

Such a measure would be counter to the Conservative Party's austerity policies, which McDonnell said had failed. "Austerity is a political choice and it's politically easy because it benefits the elite," he argued. "It's a short term choice."

The Independent notes that Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said during the leadership contest in 2015 that he was interested in the idea of a "guaranteed social wage" but that he believed there were issues that had to be worked through.

Last month, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas called on the UK government to commission research into the societal effects of universal basic income and examine its feasibility to replace Britain's existing social security system.

"The basic income offers genuine social security to everyone and sweeps away most of the bureaucracy of the current welfare system," Lucas said at the time. "Fundamentally it would allow people the freedom and flexibility to do more of what they want to do—as well as supporting them in the caring roles they might need—or choose—to do."

In addition, "a basic income would also protect people from rising insecurity in our increasingly 'flexible' labor market and help rebuild our crumbling welfare state," she continued. "I also know from speaking to people in my own constituency that the stability of a basic income could be a real boost to freelancers and entrepreneurs who need support to experiment, learn and take risks, while keeping their heads above water."

Meanwhile, Labour/Coop MP Jonathan Reynolds wrote at the New Statesman on Wednesday that he sees basic income "as a policy to cope with inevitable but fundamental economic change," among other things.

"I object to the levels of poverty in this country and believe them to be an indefensible waste of talent and resources," Reynolds argued. "I wonder how many successful businesses, or technological inventions, or medical breakthroughs, we miss out upon because we do not give enough people the platform from which they might fulfill their potential."

After stating his conviction that "many fundamental problems in the UK—be it dealing with economic change, work incentives, poverty or a lack of competitiveness—could be tackled" through basic income, Reynolds concluded: "Moderates within the Labour Party shouldn’t be afraid to embrace radical ideas. I'm coming out for Basic Income."  

At the end of 2015, Finland took a step toward providing all of its adult citizens with a basic permanent income of approximately 800 euros per month.

As Quartz reported at the time:

Previous experiments have shown that universal basic income can have a positive effect. Everyone in the Canadian town of Dauphin was given a stipend from 1974 to 1979, and though there was a drop in working hours, this was mainly because men spent more time in school and women took longer maternity leaves. Meanwhile, when thousands of unemployed people in Uganda were given unsupervised grants of twice their monthly income, working hours increased by 17% and earnings increased by 38%.

Still, Irish writer and researcher Anne B. Ryan has warned, "Basic income is not a panacea; it will not solve all our social, ecological or debt problems, nor does it claim to. But it creates the conditions for creative solutions, rather than blocking them, as much of our present social security system does."

Earlier this month, the federal minister responsible for reducing poverty in Canada said he, too, is interested in the idea of a guaranteed income.


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