Institute for Policy Research

Eyes and data

Examining the Case for a Basic Income

The IPR is leading on a research project on Universal Basic Income (UBI). A UBI would guarantee every citizen a flat rate, unconditional payment regardless of their employment status, which would not be withdrawn as earnings or income rose. Unusually for such a radical policy proposal, interest in and support for a UBI straddles the political spectrum, from socialists and Greens through to social democrats and free market libertarians. Reflecting this ideological spread, there is no single proposal for what a UBI is or should be for, what it would look like, or how it could be made to work in practice.

The IPR research project ‘Examining the Case for a Basic Income’ seeks to move the debate on the need for a UBI forward in a real-world, evidence based way, subjecting the idea of a basic income to proper academic scrutiny. With donor funding, a research project started in May 2016 is examining what a basic income might look like in a UK context, its key design features and distributional effects on different family and household types, and the practical and political obstacles that would need to be overcome if a UBI were to be adopted as a mainstream policy proposal.

Using desk research and mainly quantitative methods, the research is systematically analysing the trade-offs involved in the design of different UBI schemes with respect to cost, poverty alleviation and administrative feasibility. Using advanced microsimulation techniques, analysis is underway to examine the work incentive effects and distributional costs and benefits of different UBI schemes, exploring impacts disaggregated by family type, labour market status and disability status. Comparative analysis is also being conducted into the political and institutional factors affecting the feasibility of implementing UBI in different national contexts. Fieldwork, comprising interviews with politicians, policymakers and practitioners, is taking place in Finland and the Netherlands, where different experimental versions of basic income type schemes are currently being trialled.

A key aspect of the project is to ask whether and in what circumstances the UK public would support a UBI. To this end, the project is organising a number of public engagement activities to explore the wider issues and public concerns that implementing a UBI here might raise. The first of several open seminars will take place at the IPR in October 2016. Led by Malcolm Torry, founding member of the Citizen’s Income Trust and author of three recent books: Money for Everyone: Why we need a Citizen’s Income (2013); 101 Reasons for a Citizen’s Income (2015); and The Feasibility of Citizen’s Income (2016).

A number of written outputs will be produced from the project including academic papers, an IPR Policy Brief and a full project report. A chapter entitled ‘Making it simple? Universal Basic Income,’ is also being prepared for publication in the forthcoming edited volume Understanding social security and welfare reform (eds. Millar and Sainsbury). Publications for wide public dissemination will be promoted at a launch event planned to take place in the spring of 2017 at IPR’s London office.