David Piachaud, Emeritus Professor of Social Policy at the London School of Economics and an associate of The Centre for the Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE), published a discussion paper on Citizens’ Income (CI) in December of last year.


A Citizen’s Income, or a Basic Income, is not a new idea but it has been receiving
increasing attention. There is confusion about the idea and an attempt is made to
distinguish different concepts. Then a full Citizen’s Income is examined in relation to four key criteria: the justice of an unconditional benefit; the possibility and fairness of a simple individual benefit; economic efficiency; and political feasibility. On all four criteria, Citizen’s Income fails. It is concluded that Citizen’s Income is a wasteful distraction from more practical methods of tackling poverty and inequality and ensuring all have a right to an adequate income.



Piachaud first acknowledges that a CI, or a basic income, is attractive in its simplicity, and he cites article 25 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights of 1948: “Everyone has a right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family.”

Piachaud states, “A Citizen’s Income could ensure that right was achieved.”


He then describes four different concepts of a Citizen’s Income (CI):

  1. Bonus CI (a basic income based on a dividend)
  2. Partial CI (a basic income for particular groups only)
  3. Supplemental CI (additional income alongside a social security system)
  4. Full CI (an unconditional basic income adequate to live on to all citizens)


In the rest of his paper, Piachaud examines a full CI (which in his definition is not based on dividend but fully financed out of taxation) in relation to four key criteria. Through his analysis, he concludes that Citizens’ Income fails all four of these tests:


  1. The justice of an unconditional benefit

Piachaud discusses Philippe Van Parijs’s paper “Why Surfers Should be Fed: The Liberal Case for an Unconditional Basic Income” and argues that it is unfair (and therefore unjust) for healthy people to live off the labor of others.


  1. The possibility and fairness of a simple individual benefit

A full CI is intended to ensure (in a simple manner) that needs are met, but not everyone has the same needs. Piachaud gives examples related to disability, diversity in housing costs, and diversity in living arrangements (people living alone or with others). Basing a CI on individuals and assuming their needs are identical, is therefore unjust, Piachaud argues. “The social security and in some ways the tax system attempt to take these factors into account, however inadequately.”


  1. Economic efficiency

Piachaud defines a full CI as an unconditional income fully financed out of taxation. With respect to the economic efficiency, he argues:

“A full CI goes to everyone unconditionally, whereas social security is targeted at certain groups who in the absence of social security would be most likely to be poor. In consequence, a full CI that replaces social security is far more costly than social security, and this has to be paid for from higher taxes on all incomes with far-reaching economic consequences. The inevitable conclusion is, therefore, that a targeted social security system was, is, and will be more efficient and equitable than a full CI.”


  1. Political feasibility

Piachaud finds it very unlikely any political party will adopt an unconditional CI as a policy proposal either in the full or supplemental forms


After this analysis, David Piachaud concludes, “Citizen’s Income is a wasteful distraction from more practical methods of tackling poverty and inequality and ensuring all have a right to an adequate income.”


Info and links

The full paper can be found here.


Special thanks to Josh Martin and Danny Pearlberg for reviewing this article

Photo: diversity by Nabeelah Is, january 2012, CC-BY-SA 2.0

About Hilde Latour

Hilde Latour has written 21 articles.