These are the notes for the discussion on Universal Basic Income at the Salisbury Compass meeting on 21 January 2017


UBI is gaining more attention recently and a number of experiments are underway around the world.  There are those in favour and also many critics and sceptics.

MEPs have warned European countries they must seriously consider introducing a general basic income to prepare for wide scale unemployment that could come as a result of robots taking over manual jobs.  A draft report, tabled by a socialist MEP Mady Delvaux-Stehres, warns preparations must be made for what it describes as the “technological revolution” currently taking place, including provisions for the “possible effects on the labour market of robotics”.

The report, which passed by 17 votes to two and will be put in front of the entire European Parliament in February, urges member states to consider a general basic income in preparation for robots taking over people’s jobs.

In an interview, Ms Delvaux-Stehres said such a consideration was important to ensure that even if growing unemployment rises due to the technological revolution, people can still “have a decent life”.

We ask the commission to look at what kind of jobs — or more precisely what kind of tasks — will be taken over by robots.

“There needs to be a discussion about whether we need to change our social security systems. And even whether we have to think about universal revenue, because if there are so many unemployed people, we need nevertheless to insure that they can have a decent life. 

These are different scenarios that need to be studied and be prepared for.

UBI Positives:

  • It is a fool-proof way of safeguarding a right to dignified living
  • It provides an option to live without doing paid work if someone is willing to settle for a simple life


  • Other claims on public funds e.g. education, health, environment, essential infrastructure, etc. etc.

Internet; Guy Standing – article in Guardian and his book A Precariat Charter (Standing, 2014)’

  •  The income of the precariat is falling and has become more volatile – proposed solutions of the minimum wage, tax credits, benefits and workfare are no longer workable
  • There are more fundamental justifications – social justice, freedom and economic security.

 Article 25 of Guy Standing’s A Precariat Charter 

Governments should move towards instituting a basic income as a citizenship right.  In a global market economy, uncertainty and inequality will only worsen unless new measures are introduced.  It is vital to overhaul the social protection system’.[i]

 Ten reasons to support UBI (Basic Income UK)

 Basic Income will help us to rethink how and why we work – eg re-train

  1. Contribute to better working conditions – workers challenge employers
  2. It will downsize bureaucracy needed to manage the current welfare system (but less jobs?)
  3. Make benefit fraud obsolete
  4. Help reduce inequalities
  5. Provides a more secure and substantial safety net for all
  6. Contribute to less working hours and better distribution of jobs
  7. Reward unpaid contributions
  8. Strengthen democracy
  9. Fair redistribution of technological advancement
  10. + End extreme financial poverty.

Jane Lethbridge – UBI: Further Dismantling of the Welfare State: (Compass 6.1.17).  Has criticisms of the idea:

  •  Women return to traditional role of homemakers? Reduced participation in workforce – affect independence, status and meaning to lives.  Need to pay UBI to individs rather than to household
  • Reduction of welfare support?  Have to organise this themselves?  Would need also to have well-funded, well-run public services
  • ‘UBI should only be seen as part of a set of solutions for an expanded social infrastructure which can be addressed by providing public services which meet the changing needs of individuals at different times of their lives.  This would include a wider range of social rights and interventions such as child care, care for older people/ people with disabilities, access to a comprehensive national education service and other policies which are not just income focused.  It will require some fundamental changes in attitudes to work and how people use their own time.’

Current Situation – pilots and experiments

  • Finland – experiment – pilot scheme of unconditional cash transfers for 2000 recipients aged 25-58 for 2 yrs.  They can look for work as well or not as they choose.  Reasoning behind the expreriment – social security system dysfunctional and overly complex (Note: Finland has good public services)
  • Netherlands. The discussion about basic income has changed completely.  Thirty years ago, it was a very principled debate. High unemployment: no future.  Thus, give us a basic income, because the system cannot give us paid work.  The counter argument was you must do paid work to receive an income. A basic income is morally unacceptable.  How different is the discussion now: when we go out and hand leaflets in the streets, 50 to 90 percent of the population takes our leaflets (50 percent in rich areas and 90 percent in poor neighbourhoods). The most common reaction is: basic income is a good idea, but how do you finance it? Who pays for it?  A very pragmatic discussion no longer principles banging against each another.
  • Other pilots planned in Ontario, Canada, Oakland, California, Aquitaine and Catalonia
  • Trials being considered in Scotland – discussions in Fife and Glasgow
  • French socialist presidential candidates back UBI of £655 a month
  • MEP’s – EU UBI must be seriously considered as increasing use of robots threatens mass unemployment
  • US NGO raising money for a 12 year experiment in Kenya.
  • India – rumours Jammu and Kashmir to commit to UBI – not true but considering cash transfers for small number of poor households.

 Previous Experiments – 70’s

  • Canada – recipients of UBI experience less ill-health and mental stress
  • US – children less likely to drop out of high school
  • India – villages participating compared with those not doing so – improved nutrition, health, schooling. Helped disabled, women and low caste households more than opposites.  Higher productivity and reduced inequality.  Growth in self-employment.  Emancipatory value greater than monetary

Warning from Guy Standing – pilots short-term and small numbers of people – can only test certain behavioural aspects.  Lays more emphasis on fact that we are living in different context (globalisation, wealth no longer generated through actual work).

He says:

Progressives and libertarians must understand that the context has changed.  Every type of economy has a distinctive mode of income distribution.  Under industrial capitalism, the two main modes were wages and profits; governments mediated the struggle for shares of total income with regulations, taxes and subsidies.  But in a globalised system, wages have lost ground, while rental income and financial capital are high and rising.  We need to revise our economic imagination.  For workers and the precariat to have an adequate income, something like a basic income is simply essential.

 Article by Prof. Standing in Guardian

 Prepared by Lesley for the January meeting

 [i] A precariat Charter, from Denizens to Citizens, 2015, Standing, G., Bloomsbury Academic