Examining the case for a basic income
An IPR 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guarantee every citizen a flat-rate, unconditional payment regardless of their employment status, which would not be withdrawn as earnings or income rose.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 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 have 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 have 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.