Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

The Brief: Universal basic income

Universal basic income could be necessary as a result of automation. Pictured: an automated factory

The Brief  is a breakdown of the forces driving the headlines and what you can do to make a difference

Catch-up Universal basic income has been in the policy zeitgeist for a few years now. It’s essentially the idea that everyone in society gets an identical monthly payment from the government, regardless of wealth or income.

Where did it come from? UBI has been discussed as far back as the 16th century, but was first experimented with in the modern industrial world in the 1960s and 70s in the United States and Canada. In 2003, Brazil launched Bolsa Familia, its national version of UBI, and since around 2008 various countries have trialled the policy, from Finland to Namibia.

How does it work? There are several variations of how UBI could work, but the essence of it is that everyone gets enough money to stay above the poverty line, and the money to pay for it comes disproportionately from wealthier individuals. For example, Richard Branson would still get the same amount as you and I, but he would end up paying for many people’s basic income through his tax contributions.

Why now? Arguments for and against UBI have come from both the right and the left – and many see it as a potential answer to questions posed by automation. The obvious argument from the left in favour of UBI is that it gives families and individuals enough financial security to pursue their chosen career, rather than being stuck in a cycle of low-paid, low-skilled work. It could reduce stress, allow people to live a more balanced life, and give people the time they need to train or retrain in their chosen profession: particularly if their job has been taken by robots. People on the right have also pointed out giving people security would allow them to pursue their own entrepreneurial ventures.

There are many critics of UBI, and there are legitimate concerns about how it might change our society. Some on the left believe that the right might use UBI to get rid of the welfare state, allowing them to lower the monthly payments, eventually leaving the poorest to fend for themselves.

Absolute melts Some people oppose UBI because they say that the public will just keep voting for whoever gives them more money. These people are not smart. Do not listen to these people.

Does no one remember Thatcher?!

People are saying Anthony Painter for The Debate on ProgressOnline ‘There are three reasons not to engage with a proper discussion on UBI. First, you do not think economic insecurity exists or matters. Second, you think the current system can be tweaked to resolve economic insecurity despite evidence to the contrary. Third, you do not want to lean in to the politics of making the case for change.’ You can listen to him making the case for UBI on this week’s podcast here.

So, when do I get my free money? Well, you probably shouldn’t quit your job just yet. Scotland are currently in the middle of a trial of UBI, with the results to be announced in 2020. Liverpool council also recently debated the merits of a UBI trial, but it’s uncertain as to whether they will push ahead with this.

Be a progressive It’s been hot-takes-at-dawn at every stage of the UBI debate. Read this more balanced article about UBI and see what you think.

Because you know what guys, sometimes you’ve got to think for yourself.


Stefan Rollnick is the editorial assistant at Progress. For more hot-takes go to @StefanRollnick on Twitter


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