University of Bath

Assessing the case for basic income in light of automation and labour market change

A project assessing arguments that support for basic income is growing due to technological & labour market changes which render social security schemes unfit.

About this research

The project will incorporate regression analysis of the relationships between labour market dysfunction and attitudes towards basic income and welfare; microsimulation of the fiscal and distributional effects of basic income schemes and alternative reform packages across Europe; and research into the ‘framing’ of basic income via polling or social media data analysis.

The study will address the following core research questions:

  • How is the case for basic income justified in reference to automation and technological change, and how persuasive are the empirical and theoretical underpinnings of such arguments?
  • What are the implications of technological and labour market change for political support for basic income?
  • How does demand for basic income vary in line with the prevalence of labour market dysfunction – both between individuals (in relation to their occupation and sector), and between European welfare states (in relation to their idiosyncratic labour market structures)?
  • How does the fiscal feasibility of basic income (and related reforms) – and therefore, the political ‘supply’ of concrete basic income proposals – vary between European welfare states?

Thinking about the ‘demand side’ for basic income as a political project means paying serious attention to empirical patterns of labour market dysfunction; basic income is likely to have strong appeal in circumstances in which deficient labour markets, in combination with inadequate social security provisions, are causing material hardship. Yet, surprisingly little is known about the political dynamics through which increased labour market insecurity may feed into political support for basic income. Our research seeks to build upon empirical work being conducted within political science on welfare state preferences and risk to address this concern. Using multiple regression analysis, we will test whether those in routine-intensive occupations (who are vulnerable to labour market change) are more likely to support basic income as some theories would suggest. Noting that attitudes to basic income vary depending on how the policy is ‘framed’ as well as on specific aspects of policy design, we will also carry out analysis of framing issues, using polling or social media data.

Growing demand for basic income is an important determinant of whether the policy is feasible, but the ‘supply side’ – in terms of hard fiscal and institutional constraints – is another important question. It is conceivable that countries in which demand for such a significant reform as basic income is strongest – ie., those in which labour market dysfunction is most severe – are also those which face the most impenetrable barriers to implementing such a policy. This is likely to be the case when mass unemployment and wage inequality go hand in hand with low revenue-raising capacities and high levels of indebtedness. We will use microsimulation techniques to model and thus compare a range of basic income schemes across European countries in terms of the fiscal and distributional effects.


Google/Deep Mind (unrestricted gift)

Selected key outputs

The project will result in a number of academic papers and policy reports during 2018. Findings will be synthesised in an overarching report published as part of the Institute for Policy Research’s Policy Brief series. We will present our findings at academic conferences as well as public engagement and knowledge-exchange events.