Is The Idea Of A Universal Basic Income Becoming Less Radical?

The support base for a Universal Basic Income is growing – but can it work in the real world?

There’s no denying it; the current economic system is failing too many people. The gap between those who have, and those who don’t, is large – and getting larger – and the workforce only looks set to experience fewer opportunities as globalisation and technical advancement takes over. While those at the top continue to grow their wealth, there is a large group being left behind. And, let’s be frank, the current welfare benefit system certainly isn’t helping. Locally, benefits and welfare are fraught with corruption scandals and mismanagement. Globally, welfare systems are bureaucratic and restrictive. So, what’s the solution for the ‘have nots’?

One radical concept is the idea of a Universal Basic Income (UBI). As Inside Philanthropy puts it, “The concept of universal basic income imagines a society in which every citizen gets a cheque to survive, and can spend that money freely while working to earn more”. It’s an idea that has largely been discussed in radical left circles – but seems to be gaining more momentum in the mainstream. In the UK recently, a poll of 1, 111 adults, conducted by the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Bath, found that 49% of 18 to 75-year-olds supported the introduction of a UBI.

In August, Richard Branson also backed the idea. “In the modern world, everybody should have the opportunity to work and to thrive. Most countries can afford to make sure that everybody has their basic needs covered,” he wrote in a blog post. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Slack chief executive Stewart Butterfield, and Tesla boss Elon Musk have also all expressed their support for a UBI. In May, In May, South African businessman Johann Rupert told the Financial Times , “I’m a proponent of universal basic income. We have to give time to people to re-skill themselves for a new economy.”

Those in support of UBI say it will help us rethink how and why we work, by enabling us to retrain, safe in the knowledge that we’ll have enough money to maintain a decent standard of living. They also say it will share the wealth, leading to less inequality; downsize bureaucracy, making the welfare state less complex by cutting out the middleman; result in less benefit fraud; and will create better workplace environment by giving people the security they need to challenge unfair working conditions.

In fact, it’s gaining such traction that a trail of UBI is being run in Finland. According to The Independent in July 2017, “Finland has been giving 2,000 of its citizens an unconditional income for the last five months and some are already seeing the benefits, reporting decreased stress, greater incentives to find work and more time to pursue business ideas.”

In the U.S, the Economic Security Project is rolling out a two-year research project to study how basic income might work, by awarding grants to non-profits to try it out. “Now is the time to think seriously about how recurring, unconditional cash stipends could work, how to pay for them, and what the political path might be to make them a reality, even while many of us are engaged in protecting the existing safety net,” they write on their website. One of the grantees is GiveDirectly, which will study how lessons from its basic income work in Kenya could be applied in the U.S.

Of course, not everyone sees the benefits of a UBI. “The main worry is that people will stop working, slowing growth and creating social dysfunction,” writes Inside Philanthropy. “Another concern is that recipients will squander their payments.” And even supporters of the idea aren’t too keen on the fact that we might need to up taxes to do this…

The truth is, while we won’t know how it would work in the real world until trials have been conducted over an extended period of time – we can agree that we urgently need to find new solutions to the social challenges facing so many. “We need those with financial power to consider ways to share and spread the wealth,” says Ali Gregg, Pioneering Philanthropist of The Philanthropic Collection, a social enterprise which looks for new, innovative ways to get business leaders to create change for vulnerable communities. “We need to give the workforce a chance to expand their skills in the modern world, while still being able to live with dignity. Many leaders have innovated industries – which has lead to exciting technical advancements – but, sadly, also a loss of jobs. Now they need to consider how to address the social fallout.” And a UBI might be just the way to do that…

– By The Philanthropic Collection –


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