A Parliamentary session on universal basic income (commonly known in the UK as “citizen’s income”) was held at the University of Birmingham on January 12, 2017.

This session had the status of an “inquiry”, a formal call for information on the topic of citizen’s income, in the form of an oral evidence session to the Work and Pensions Committee of the UK Parliament. 

While this is not the first time in recent history that citizen’s income has been discussed in the UK Parliament (in September 2016, MPs debated the topic in the House of Commons), it is the first event of its status as an oral evidence session, at which selected experts were called to address questions from a cross-party committee of MPs.

Seven panelists took part in the session, selected by the committee on the basis of their background and interest in the basic income (and in part on the basis of the results from a request for participants released in October 2016). During the event, each panelist was given time for opening and closing statements on basic income, with about an hour allotted for addressing questions and concerns from the MPs on the committee. Questions focused on general information about basic income, its relationship to the existing welfare state, and arguments for and against it. 

An article by André Coelho on the content of the oral evidence session in forthcoming in Basic Income News. 

The entire session can be viewed here:

YouTube player

Panel Participants

• Louise Haagh (Reader at the University of York and Co-Chair of BIEN). Haagh supports a basic income as part of a system of progressive reforms.

• Annie Miller (Chair of Citizen’s Income Trust and founding member of BIEN’s affiliate Citizen’s Basic Income Network Scotland). Like Haagh, Miller supports a basic income, but only in conjunction with other benefits. Specifically, she believes that separate housing and disability benefits are needed in addition to a basic income.

• Becca Kirkpatrick (Chair of UNISON West Midlands Community Branch). Kirkpatrick agrees with Haagh and Miller that basic income should be adopted as part of progressive reforms (cf. her union’s 20-point manifesto, which includes a proposal for a basic income “micro pilot”).

• Ben Southwood (Head of Research at the Adam Smith Institute). Southwood is not only on the viewer’s right of the first three panelists but also the political right: he supports a basic income or negative income tax but only as a replacement to the majority of the UK’s existing welfare system.

• Peter Alcock (Emeritus Professor at the University of Birmingham). Alcock opposes basic income, which he describes as “such an appealing idea that it’s too good to be true” (referencing his 1989 article “Unconditional benefits: misplaced optimism in income maintenance”). He believes that, in the current system, demands for a citizen’s income are distractions from more pressing issues.

• Declan Gaffney (independent political consultant; policy advisor to the previous Mayor of London). Like Alcock, Gaffney believes that universal basic income is “too good to be true” — which, as it happens, are the precise words used in the title of a piece he wrote on the topic for The Guardian after Finland announced its pilot plans in late 2015. According to Gaffney, basic income is a useful “thought experiment” but not practically feasible or necessary.

• Andrew Harrop (General Secretary of the Fabian Society). Harrop endorses a related policy of “individual credits” for adults in the UK (cf. his report for the Fabian Society published last year); he stresses, additionally, that basic income and similar policies should be viewed through the lens of tax reform.

Photo: University of Birmingham at twilight, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Samuel George