Malcolm Torry, “How might we implement a citizen’s income?”
Malcolm Torry, director of the UK’s Citizen’s Income Trust (CIT) and co-secretary of BIEN, has prepared a report on implementing a citizen’s income (i.e. a basic income for UK citizens) for the Institute for Chartered Accountants of England and Wales (ICAEW).
In a report written for ICAEW’s opinion column, its “Outside Insights“ series, Torry develops four different proposals to implement a basic income guarantee wherein weekly cash grants are disbursed in equal amounts to all adult UK citizens. (As mentioned below, however, two of the proposals recommend that the government move toward a universal basic income by first introducing equal and unconditional cash transfers within certain subpopulations.)
As is common in the UK, Torry refers to the policy as a “citizen’s income”, which he defines as “an unconditional, non-withdrawable income, paid automatically to every individual as a right of citizenship” — or, roughly, a universal basic income for citizens. (Here, I will use the terms ‘basic income’, ‘UBI’, and ‘citizen’s income’ interchangeably.)
On Torry’s proposals, the amount of the payouts would be the same for all citizens, regardless of earnings, although higher earners might be taxed more heavily. This is slight but notable difference from the form of basic income guarantee under consideration by the government of Ontario, for example, which is planning to test a model wherein the amount of the cash grants is tapered off with earnings (that is, a negative income tax).
The ICAEW report briefly addresses several common objections to basic income, and reviews the types of “feasibility” analyzed in detail in Torry’s book, The Feasibility of Citizen’s Income, published earlier in the year –including (to use his terms) financial, psychological, behavioral, administrative, political, and policy-process feasibility.
A Citizen’s Income: Four Schemes
Against this background, Torry investigates four specific models for implementing a basic income:
1. The first proposal is to introduce a universal basic income at a level at least as high as the UK’s current benefit cap, which would replace current means-tested social assistance. Torry notes that this scheme would be most feasible in a highly automated economy, in which a portion of the proceeds on machine production could be used to fund the citizen’s income, and wherein any potential work disincentive effects of the UBI would be benign to the economy. However, he does not believe that it is currently financially feasible, since financing it would require either massive increases in income tax rates or additional sources of revenue.
2. The second proposal is to introduce a smaller level of UBI (e.g. £60 per week for working age adults) without abolishing current means-tested benefits. Under this scheme, the government would take account of the amount of income received through the UBI when determining eligibility for additional social welfare benefits. Torry states that this scheme could be funded by a 3% increase in income taxes. However, he hypothesizes that it would be unpopular (psychologically infeasible) due to the redistribution of money from income earners to other working-age adults.
3. The third proposal is to phase in a UBI by gradually introducing it to successive age-cohorts of young adult. Torry recommends that the government begin with a universal child benefit £45 per week per child under the age of 16, and a citizen’s income of £60 per week for each person 16 years of age. The latter would then retain the citizen’s income in subsequent years, while those who turn 16 would begin to receive it.
Torry notes that, without additional pressure to implement a fully universal basic income, it could take 40 to 50 years for the entire population to receive the unconditional benefits. However, he believes that it is one of the most feasible options (on all dimensions of feasibility).
4. The fourth and final proposal, which Torry also considers to be relatively feasibility, is to phase in a UBI in the opposite age-wise direction: beginning by introducing the benefit to “pre-retired” adults (e.g. those over age 60) who voluntarily opt into the program.
The ICAEW has more than 147,000 members worldwide from the finance professions. The organization itself does not take an official stand on citizen’s income.
The full report is available for download from the ICAEW website: Malcolm Torry, “How might we implement a citizen’s income?“
The CIT has also published a blog post summarizing the results of the report: Citizen’s Income Trust (November 16, 2016) “ICAEW report on implementing Citizen’s Income”
Article reviewed by Ali Özgür Abalı
Cover image: “Chartered Accountant’s Hall” CC BY-SA 2.0 R4vi