The concept of universal basic income – an unconditional payment for all in a society – is one that goes back centuries, but what are the main arguments in its favour?
As more and more jobs become automated – that is they are done by machines rather than humans - the main benefiters will be those who own the machines while human workers will face mass unemployment. Why pay staff to serve tables in restaurants when it becomes cheap enough for robots to do the same job and not get tired? Why pay cab drivers when autonomous cars could do the same job without having to pay a wage? These are real questions that large corporations are just decades – if not years - away from asking. A 2015 Bank of England study suggests that fifteen million jobs in the UK could be at risk from automation in the coming decades, as reported by the Guardian. Universal basic income could be one solution to this empowering yet problematic issue.
2. It could help level the playing field
Secondly, UBI could level the playing field. People will never all have equal incomes – and nor should they – but UBI would recognise the undeniable fact that some people are born into wealthier families than others, and that others are disadvantaged right from the get-go. Part of people’s success in life is their own hard work, but the other side of that is their background. Economic privilege is very real, and while UBI would not solve this issue overnight, it would every provide every woman, man and child an unconditional payment that would go some way to levelling the playing field, and give every a more equal set of opportunities in life.
3. The gig economy
At least until food-delivery riders are replaced with drones and other machines, the gig economy is a very real part of British society. Gig economy jobs give workers freedom and flexibility, but they are very much demand-driven, and can be exploitative. UBI recognises the more fluid nature of the UK’s workforce and would give everyone a safety net in times when gig economy workers can’t get gigs.
4. Recognition of the invisible work-force
We live in a market economy, but often the contributions people make to society go unrewarded. Look at stay-at-home carers who cut down on work to look after loved-ones. The role they play in our society is a commendable and financially unrewarded one, but yet such workers only get an allowance of £62.70 for 35+ hours a week. Universal basic income would give carers the ability to earn enough to care without adding additional financial worries that stem from the decision of whether to work.
5. It could save money
There is no denying that UBI would be incredibly expensive, however, such a system would make vast savings as it would result in cuts to the large bureaucracy that governs the country’s current welfare system. Of course, top up credits would need to exist to further help those with disabilities, but overall, the cuts to the welfare system’s management would be substantial and result in significant savings. A switch to UBI would probably cost more in total, but much more of it would be on achieving the aims of the system not merely facilitating its existence.
6. The freedom to start a business
UBI is often seen as a left-wing proposal, but it is arguably a pragmatic one that recognises the large challenges that our society will soon be facing. However, there is one big argument in favour of UBI that will please centre-right thinkers. UBI helps levels the playing field and gives people a guaranteed financial stability. People start businesses all the time, but they need a huge amount of time, effort and money to be successful. UBI would provide entrepreneurs financial security if they wish to take time out from full-time employment and take the risk to start a business. Who knows how many great ideas never took off due to lack of security rather than lack of ambition?
7. It’s not just about the money
UBI is technically all about money, but life is not. Sure, it plays a large part, but for many, working and making money is the means to an end rather than the be all and end all. UBI would help people fulfil their dreams, whether that would be to allow them to work part-time to do more volunteering or travel the world, or write that novel or construct music and poetry, UBI would give people the flexibility to take time out and make dreams reality.
Overall, universal basic income is certainly an attractive idea, but is it feasible? And will it catch on?