Opinion: Basic Income is a liberal idea and we must reclaim it

There is already evidence that the generous £400 per week package is being used by these young people to go on courses, or to put down a deposit on a flat.

Opinion: Basic Income is a liberal idea and we must reclaim it
Opinion: Basic Income is a liberal idea and we must reclaim it

By Jane Dodds

See original post here.

As a long-standing advocate of Basic Income I was incredibly excited that my native Wales was the first part of the UK to pilot this policy idea. I have supported the Labour Government in this process and am following developments with optimism.

The pilot is centred around young people leaving the care system. This is a particularly disadvantaged group of youngsters who ordinarily would be more or less left to their own devices when they reach their 18th birthday and are no longer considered children by the system.

There is already evidence that the generous £400 per week package is being used by these young people to go on courses, or to put down a deposit on a flat. One young person has used it to pay for driving lessons.

Even though the scheme has been criticised constantly by Conservatives in Wales, who say among other things that these young people will be taken advantage of, there is no evidence so far of that happening.

The scheme has been in place for a year and there is another year to go. The trial is being evaluated independently by Cardiff University and I am convinced that it will show that a Basic Income is good for people, for communities and for the economy.

Which is also why I am disappointed that our own party, which led the way in the UK by making Basic Income official party policy back in 2020, now appears to be backsliding in its commitment to this very liberal idea.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, a Basic Income is a regular and unconditional payment to every individual in society, as a right of citizenship.

A Basic Income has five core characteristics:

  • It’s paid in cash: it’s money you can spend on whatever you want.
  • It’s paid regularly: so you know the next payment is coming.
  • It’s for individuals: Each person gets their own basic income, paid to the individual not the household.
  • It’s unconditional: You don’t have to work or make any promises to get your basic income, there are no strings attached
  • It’s universal: everyone gets it.

Basic Income is, at its core, about financial stability and dignity for all.

Basic Income trials like the one in Wales (and others currently being proposed in England) are a good idea, although there is already plenty of evidence that these sorts of unconditional cash transfer programmes have incredibly positive impacts on the wellbeing of communities and individuals.

A four-year experiment in Canada in the 1970s found that giving people a basic income made everyone nearly 10% less likely to end up in hospital. It also concluded, contrary to most popular beliefs, that giving people a bit of money does not have a measurable impact on their willingness to work.

More recently, a smaller basic income study among a cohort of unemployed people in Finland also concluded that their health outcomes were better and their inclination to work unaffected.

Modelling of Basic Income schemes shows that they reduce child poverty and health inequalities.

The Liberal Democrats made support for Basic Income official party policy at our 2020 party conference. With millions facing economic uncertainty because of the Covid-19 pandemic, we recognised that financial stability had to be for everyone and that we had a vested interest in looking out for each other in society.

Our policy people went to work and produced a sensible policy proposal for giving everyone in the country a Basic Income.

And yet, just three years later, that clarity of vision appears to have been lost. The Basic Income proposal was buried inside yet another consultation and essentially discarded at this year’s spring conference. Even the original proposal document has been removed from the party’s website (They published it here https://www.libdems.org.uk/a21-universal-basic-income but have now removed that page.)

I want our party to reclaim this liberal idea. Basic Income was proposed by Paddy Ashdown as a fundamental component of his “Radical Agenda for the 1990s”, a book published in the late 1980s. It is liberal because it recognises the agency of the individual and their contribution to society. A Basic Income, he said, “gives security to each individual”, and will also “liberate power in the hands of the citizen.”

We need to be a party that is not afraid to articulate bold ideas that strengthen our citizens, reduce inequality and make for stronger communities. Basic Income is one such idea. A Basic Income does not solve every problem, but it makes every problem easier to solve.

I will be at our autumn conference making the case for a Basic Income and I hope you will join me. Our session is on Sunday, September 24th 19.45 to 21.00 in the Meyrick Suite and the BIC.

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