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Citizens Basic Income: an idea whose time has come

This opinion piece is over 6 years old

​Maddy Halliday explains what Citizen's Basic Income is - and how it would work

Citizen’s Basic Income (CBI), also known as Universal Basic Income, refers to an unconditional, non-withdrawable income payable by the state to every individual as a right of citizenship.

CBI would support children, adults of working age and retired adults with variations in the level of CBI for these age groups.

It would need to be complemented by a living wage for people in paid work; additional support for those unable to meet essential housing costs; and additional support for disabled people.

CBI would complement other universal and vital public services, including health care and education. CBI and other public services would be paid for through taxation.

Maddy Halliday

The idea of CBI is not new, with key historical advocates including Thomas Paine and Nelson Mandela

Maddy Halliday

The idea of CBI is not new, with key historical advocates including Thomas Paine, who, in his famous treatise on the Rights of Man, advocated a minimum basic income in 1797.

More recent high-profile advocates include Martin Luther King. Current internationally respected advocates include Guy Standing, Karl Widerquist and Annie Miller who, with others, co-founded the Basic Income Earth Network in 1986.

Annie, a retired economics professor at Herriott Watt University in Edinburgh, is also a co-founder and trustee of Citizen’s Basic Income Network Scotland and has just published A Basic Income Handbook.

CBINS’s founders believe that CBI provides an ethical and practical means of establishing greater financial security and prosperity for all, supporting economic and social justice and inclusion by reducing poverty and inequality and improving people’s quality of life and well-being.

CBI would assist in the realisation of the right of every person to have an adequate standard of living as set in article 25 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the linked International 1976 Convention of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which affirms the right for every human to have essential needs fulfilled such as the right to adequate food and shelter.

CBI is not such a radical idea as it may seem, as there are elements of such entitlement in the UK’s current tax and social security arrangements. For example, we currently accept that every person in paid work has a personal tax-free income, which is currently £11,500

State pensions are universal and popular and have been protected and enhanced in recent years.

Child benefit is also universal and popular although entitlement has been reduced to two children, causing difficulty for families with more children with low incomes.

The UK is in the top ten of wealthy countries in the world. Poverty in the UK is therefore not inevitable but a result of fiscal, economic and social policy.

Poverty is inhumane and unnecessary but it is also expensive and economically inefficient - reducing productivity, consumption and tax payments as well as leading to increasing demand for health care and other public services.

Maddy Halliday is co-founder and trustee of Citizen's Basic Income Trust.

How would Citizens Basic Income work?

Citizen’s Basic Income Network Scotland (CBINS) was established in 2016 to build public awareness of the potential benefits of CBI in reducing poverty and improving quality of life and wellbeing for everyone.

Historical and current experience and evidence shows that providing people with an adequate income creates a healthier, fairer and more prosperous society.

Its supporters say CBI is not utopian but possible with public support and political will.

However, there are many questions about CBI and TFN asked Maddy Halliday to address them.

Somepeople query the universal element of CBI asking why pay it to people who don’tneed it?

Universal benefits and services are much more accepted and supported – consider state pensions, child benefit and the NHS – and do not stigmatise people. Universal provision of a benefit or service is also easier to provide and is less intrusive. People who have sufficient income or other wealth would contribute back through their taxes.

Othersask - is CBI affordable?

The simple answer is yes. However, the level of CBI that could be paid in any given nation would depend on their national economy and the level of taxation that would be politically acceptable in that society at a given time.

Anotherkey concern about CBI is whether people of working age would still do paidwork.

The level of CBI for working age adults would be such that most people would still need and want to do paid work to have a higher standard of living and for the stimulation and social connections that work provides.

To find out more visit the CBINS’s website. Annie Miller’s handbook also provides lots of useful information, including evidence from CBI pilots across the world. CBINS also provides up to date information on its website on the progress of Scottish CBI pilots. CBINS also organises and attends events and trains CBI advocates to support discussion and understanding of CBI and promotes awareness through twitter (@cbinscot) and Facebook.



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Rose Burn
over 6 years ago
Universal basic income is an interesting idea but we do need to think how affordable it is. If we assume the income is £10,000 a person, just below the income tax allowance, that would cost Scotland over £40 billion a year which is more than the Scottish Government's total annual budget. How do we pay for that? Does such an income replace all benefits? Do pensioners and children receive it? Lots of practical questions to consider.
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Edward J. Dodson
over 6 years ago
We can look back in history for some guidance on how to best provide all individuals with an income sufficient to provide for what the philosopher Mortimer Adler described as "the goods for a decent human existence." Thomas Paine put forward the idea in his essay "Agrarian Justice" at a time when economic equality was not considered by any of his contemporaries. Uniquely, Paine understood better than most how economic forces might come into play to diminish the potential benefit of a universal basic income. He supported the societal collection of land rent (meaning the potential annual rental value of locations, whether in cities and towns or tracts of land in rural areas) which he understood to be societally-created by the creation of infrastructure and other public amenities. Because we have failed to follow Paine's advice on this issue, we live in a society where landed interests are the primary beneficiary of any broad increases in individual income.It is at the bottom of our economic ladder where the availability of decent, affordable rental housing is in extremely short supply. If, for example, every adult in the U.S. received a grant of $10,000 annually, a good portion of the increase in income of those at the bottom would gradually be transferred to landlords in the form of rising rents. This is because the supply of affordable housing units would not increase but the competition for existing units would. To prevent this "unforeseen" outcome, communities need to commit resources to a dramatic increase in the construction of decent, community-owned, affordable housing, charging tenants a maximum monthly rent equal to 30 percent of household income.
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