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Blog: Universal Basic Income


Universal Basic Income offers a guaranteed level of income to every individual. In Scotland they are set to pilot the scheme in Fife. The issue was discussed at one of the keynote sessions at CIH Scotland’s #Housingfestival2017 in Glasgow’s SEC Centre. CIH Cymru Director, Matt Dicks listened into the debate which threw up a very surprising result.

When was the idea of Universal Basic Income (UBI) first mooted in the UK?

a) 1795

b) 1895

C) 1995

Well most delegates at Scotland’s #Housingfestival2017 today opted for option C, but they were wrong. Thomas Paine first floated the idea of UBI in 1795. Back then he suggested that everyone should be entitled to a basic weekly wage of £10, in today’s money that’d work out at around £1,200.

No modern day supporters of UBI suggest that it should be at that level, the Green Party has floated an amount of £100 for adults and £50 for children. Proponents, such as think tank Inform Scotland, say it allows us to be more flexible about the way we work; allows people to up their skills because they will be guaranteed income while they undertake training; and is good for women because benefits currently go to households, with the evidence suggesting that in many cases the money doesn’t go to the women in the household who more often than not undertake the childcare responsibilities. UBI would go directly to individuals.

Thanks to the wonder of modern technology, at the beginning of the #Housingfestival2017 session on UBI, delegates were asked whether they supported the initiative in principle. After pushing their relevant button on their voting pad, in the blink of an eye, the results were flashed up on the large screen. Three-quarters of them were in favour.

Then enter stage right, Paul Spicker, Emeritus Professor of Public Policy at Robert Gordon University.

One-size doesn’t fit all he told us; the poor will lose out because any gains will be offset by the loss of current benefits; and the financial benefit of UBI will go almost exclusively to the better off because it is a universal benefit.

And if people were willing to pay higher taxes to fund such a scheme, would we not be better off spending that on health, housing, education or infrastructure. Or why don’t we pump more money into existing universal benefits such as creating a citizens pension or supplementing child benefit.

Well, the Professor’s arguments certainly won over the audience at #Housingfestival2017 – we were asked the same question at the end of the session – did we support UBI in principle?

The result this time round was very different. Only 49% said yes!

It is an initiative that is being adopted in Finland and speaking from a personal perspective, I usually find that social policy experiments in Scandinavian countries tend to lead to positive outcomes. However, the audience here in Scotland remains unconvinced.

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