This is one of a series of guest blog posts on topics relevant to public services in Wales, written by Neil Tamplin.
What is a Universal Basic Income?
A basic income is a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means-test or work requirement.
That is, basic income has the following five characteristics:
- Periodic: it is paid at regular intervals (for example every month), not as a one-off grant.
- Cash payment: it is paid in an appropriate medium of exchange, allowing those who receive it to decide what they spend it on. It is not, therefore, paid either in kind (such as food or services) or in vouchers dedicated to a specific use.
- Individual: it is paid on an individual basis—and not, for instance, to households.
- Universal: it is paid to all, without means test.
- Unconditional: it is paid without a requirement to work or to demonstrate willingness-to-work.
(above definition from http://basicincome.org/basic-income/)
Why might we need a Universal Basic Income?
Opinion is currently divided as to whether the combination of automation (robots) and Artificial Intelligence will swallow jobs wholesale or if they will augment humans and free us all from drudgery to pursue more fulfilling endeavours.
What most people can agree on is that technology is rapidly transforming the world around us. Each wave of technological advancement brings with it a new set of opportunities and challenges.
The difference with this new industrial revolution is the speed at which these changes are taking place. Vast cross sections of society are already feeling the affects of a smaller, more connected world. And we have yet to grasp the widespread implications of emerging technology like autonomous vehicles, augmented/virtual reality and 3D printing.
As business becomes supercharged by digital innovation, how much time will people have to get ready for the next wave of jobs that don’t exist yet? How easily can people retrain and reskill? How secure is new found employment? Does work pay enough to meet a basic living standard? Are people being used as temporary placeholders for robots?
Universal Basic Income is essentially a safety net that shelters people from the unexpected twists and turns of the future. The loss of employment. The gap between ‘gigs’. The need to retrain for a new career path. The need to care for a parent, partner or child.
We are all working longer and it is more likely than ever we will change jobs (or even careers) multiple times during our lives. New digital business models mean that more people are venturing into the world of self employment than ever before. Wouldn’t it be better if we all had a way to smoothly transition through these different chapters without courting huge amounts of risk and debt?
How would we pay for Universal Basic Income?
How could we afford to pay every citizen, no questions asked? It’s not as crazy as it sounds. After all, we tax everyone for existing.
Here are some suggestions for ways to fund a Universal Basic Income.
- Money reclaimed from vastly simplifying the means tested welfare system.
- Land Value Tax: A tax on the use of public resources (land, air, sea etc.).
- Carbon Tax: A tax on carbon emissions.
- Automation/Robot Tax: A tax for companies that heavily utilise automation instead of manual labour.
- Data Tax: A dividend from the likes of Google and Facebook for citizen data.
- Mining Space Asteroids!: No, seriously. People are working on this. There’s an abundance of resources floating around waiting to be used.
How do we know if any of this works?
Honestly, we don’t! Not yet anyway.
There are a lot of moving parts to account for and we could probably debate the pros and cons all day long without making much headway. What we really need to advance the conversation is hard data.
A number of countries interested in the idea (Finland, Canada and Scotland to name but three) are running small scale pilots to gather that data and answer some interesting questions like…
- How much basic income would each person need to live a basic lifestyle?
- Does basic income mean that people work less?
- Does basic income help people become more entrepreneurial by reducing risk?
- Is basic income more effective at helping people find work than traditional welfare models?
- Does basic income give people an escape route from grinding poverty?
- Should children be paid basic income?
So… in the face of huge amounts of change, should we in Wales be thinking about what Universal Basic Income could do for us? What would it take to run a Welsh Basic Income pilot to start answering some of these very same questions on our own doorstep?
Neil Tamplin works with technology in the social housing sector. He is interested in ways we can apply the tools, cultures and practices of the digital age for social good. He is on Twitter as @NeilTamplin and contributes to @BasicIncWales.
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