Tag Archives: Social policy

Citizen’s Basic Income: An Unconditional Income for Everyone

July 16, 2020


Malcolm Torry explores the topical issue of Citizen’s Basic Income in light of the coronavirus crisis.

During the past few months, the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated some already deep-seated trends in our global society and economy, and in particular the increasing diversity, fragility and insecurity of the employment market, and the insecurity of household disposable incomes. Those existing trends had already fuelled growing interest in the idea of a Citizen’s Basic Income (also known as a Universal Basic Income, a Citizen’s Income, or a Basic Income): an unconditional income for every individual. The shocks to our society and economy during the pandemic have intensified interest in Citizen’s Basic Income even further.

An increasing debate and a growing literature

Just eight years ago there was almost no public or policymaker debate about Citizen’s Basic Income, and there was no general introduction to the subject. My Money for Everyone: Why we need a Citizen’s Income was published in 2013: and since then multiple introductions to the subject have been published; lots of books have been published on different aspects of the subject; and an international handbook by fifty-two authors was published in 2019. But there was no book that studied the subject from the perspectives of a range of academic disciplines. A Modern Guide of Citizen’s Basic Income: A multidisciplinary approach (Edward Elgar, 2020) has now filled that gap. Each chapter outlines the character of an academic discipline—language, history, ethics, economics, psychology, social psychology, sociology, social policy, social administration, politics, political economy, and law—; asks how the discipline contributes to our understanding of Citizen’s Basic Income; and finally asks how the Citizen’s Basic Income debate might contribute to the development of the discipline. The book is designed to enable university and teachers to study the Citizen’s Basic Income debate from the perspective of their own academic disciplines, and might also be useful to sixth-form teachers and students interested in the subject.

Until about seven years ago I could legitimately claim to be able to read everything published in English on Citizen’s Basic Income, and some of the literature in other languages as well. Nobody could now claim to be able to do that. A few months ago Guy Standing (a prolific author in the field) and myself reviewed the now substantial literature on Citizen’s Basic Income and struggled to find any unfilled gaps. The Modern Guide to Citizen’s Basic Income has now filled one of the gaps; and a comprehensive history of Citizen’s Basic Income that Edward Elgar has contracted me to write will fill another one once it’s finished.

Some updating of the literature will continue to be required, of course. Four years ago I was asked to prepare a second edition of Money for Everyone, but when I looked through the book I realised that it wasn’t a second edition that was required, but a new book. The debate had changed so much since 2013 that much of the original book was irrelevant, and a lot of new material would be required. For instance, ten years ago the debate was almost entirely in relation to the question ‘Would a Citizen’s Basic Income be a good idea?’—that is, would it be desirable. That question is still important, but now it is essential to answer the questions ‘Would it be feasible?’ and ‘How would we implement it?’ are equally significant, so the new book had to include substantial material on those aspects of the subject. Some of the previous material had become irrelevant and had to be omitted; and everything else left in the book had to be almost completely rewritten. The result was the new book Why we Need a Citizen’s Basic Income. The publisher gave it a new title because so much was new, but kept the same front cover image as a recognition that it was a replacement for Money for Everyone.

Research on financial feasibility

One particularly significant aspect of the increasing focus on the feasibility of Citizen’s Basic Income is the growing need for research on feasible illustrative Citizen’s Basic Income schemes. For more than ten years I have been privileged to have had access to the best research method available. The Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Essex manages EUROMOD, of which the UK section is now called UKMOD. This is a microsimulation programme into which are coded all of a country’s tax and benefits regulations, and through which we pass financial data on a large representative sample of the country’s population. The programme generates a variety of statistics about poverty, inequality, and so on, and from the output files we can calculate such information as household disposable incomes, the numbers of households on different benefits, and so on. We can code new policies into the programme, alter existing taxes and benefits, and then run the programme again to generate a new set of statistics. We can then compare the two sets of statistics to discover what would really happen if the policy changes were to be implemented. This means that we can test a wide variety of illustrative Citizen’s Basic Income schemes for a number of different feasibility criteria, and therefore discover whether a country might have available to it a feasible Citizen’s Basic Income scheme. ISER has recently published new microsimulation research on an illustrative Recovery Basic Income for the United Kingdom, and for a subsequent permanent revenue-neutral Basic Income scheme. The working paper shows that a Recovery Basic Income scheme of a significant amount would be affordable for only a short period of time, but that it could be followed by a permanent and financially feasible Citizen’s Basic Income scheme.

The importance of this kind of research for the current debate is recognised by A Modern Guide to Citizen’s Basic Income containing full details of three feasible Citizen’s Basic Income schemes researched in 2019.

The future of the Citizen’s Basic Income debate

The way in which the pandemic has both revealed and exacerbated some of the social, employment and economic difficulties facing our society is clearly an important reason for the rapidly increasing interest in Citizen’s Basic Income during the past few weeks. So as the pandemic subsides, will the Citizen’s Basic Income debate subside as well? Ever since Thomas Spence proposed a recognisable Citizen’s Basic Income at the end of the eighteenth century the idea has experienced occasional periods of interest interspersed with long periods of neglect. I doubt if that will now happen. We might see peaks and troughs, but because we are unlikely to return to the relatively stable social, economic, and employment market conditions of much of the twentieth century we are going to need a means of providing a secure layer of income for every household. The Citizen’s Basic Income debate isn’t going to go away. It will therefore be essential for academics to study the subject from within the contexts of their own disciplines. The will find A Modern Guide to Citizen’s Basic Income: A multidisciplinary study increasingly useful as the debate continues to evolve.

Dr. Malcolm Torry is General Manager of BIEN (the Basic Income Earth Network), and was until recently Director of the Citizen’s Basic Income Trust and a Visiting Senior Fellow in the Social Policy Department at the London School of Economics.

A Modern Guide to Citizen’s Basic Income by Malcolm Torry is out now.

Read chapter one free on Elgaronline

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