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University of Bath

Examining the case for a basic income

An Institute for Policy Research project on universal basic income (UBI).

A universal basic income (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guarantee every citizen a flat-rate, unconditional payment regardless of their employment status, which would not be withdrawn as earnings or income rose. 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.

This project investigated what a UBI might look like in a UK context in terms of design; distributional effects; and the potential for mainstream policy adoption. The study sought to move forward the debate on the desirability and feasibility of UBI in a real-world, evidence-based way, subjecting the idea of a basic income to proper academic scrutiny. The research was conducted by Dr Luke Martinelli at the Institute for Policy Research (IPR), in collaboration with IPR Director Professor Nick Pearce and Visiting Policy Fellow Dr Jurgen De Wispelaere, and was funded by an alumnus donation by Eva and Van Dubose.

The research programme had a number of elements. Using microsimulation methods, the research systematically analysed the trade-offs involved in the design features of different UBI schemes with respect to cost, poverty alleviation and administrative feasibility. An innovation of our approach was to disaggregate work incentive effects and distributional costs and benefits of different UBI schemes for different demographic groups, for example distinguishing effects by family type, labour market status, disability status and sex. Our research also aimed to situate basic income within the comparative political economy and social policy literatures, by analysing the political and institutional factors affecting the feasibility of implementing UBI in different national contexts. We conducted fieldwork in Finland, where a version of UBI is currently being piloted, in order to better understand the motivation for increased policy interest and the role of experimental evidence in advancing understanding of basic income’s impacts. Finally, we examined the validity of arguments for basic income that arise from the perspective that labour markets are undergoing fundamental and irreversible structural shifts due to globalisation and technological change.

Project team

  • Dr Luke Martinelli, IPR Research Associate
  • Professor Nick Pearce, IPR Director
  • Dr Jurgen De Wispelaere, IPR Policy Fellow


Donation from Eva and Van Du Bose.


In addition to these past IPR publications and events, our research findings have been presented at the international ESPAnet and BIEN conferences in September 2017.

The research has also directly impacted on policy debates. The IPR has contributed to a Labour Party consultation on basic income (March 2017) presented evidence at a Welsh Assembly consultation (July 2017).