A Special Rapporteur of the United Nations will hold a panel discussion on universal basic income and the future of human rights on Thursday, June 8, 2017.

Organized by Professor Philip Alston, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, the event will explore the potential for basic income to mitigate global economic insecurity. The panelists include two cofounders of the Basic Income Earth Network — Professor Philippe van Parijs (University of Louvain, Hoover Chair of Economic and Social Ethics) and Guy Standing (School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London) — in addition to Isabelle Doresse (People’s Universities in Northern Pas de Calais, ATD Fourth World) and Alex Praça (Human and Trade Union Rights Officer of the International Trade Union Confederation).

The panel will discuss a report prepared by Alston and submitted to the UN’s Human Rights Council. Alston’s report addresses the concern that “the human rights movement needs to address and respond to the fundamental changes that are taking place in economic and social structures at the national and global levels,” including precarious employment, automation, increasing inequality, and the obsolescence of traditional forms of labor market regulation.

As Alston describes the idea, a basic income “is explicitly designed to challenge most of the key assumptions underpinning existing social security systems”:

Rather than a system where there are partial payments, basic income guarantees a floor; instead of being episodic, payments are regular; rather than being needs-based, they are paid as a flat rate to all; they come in cash, rather than as messy in-kind support; they accrue to every individual, rather than only to needy households; rather than requiring that various conditions be met, they are unconditional; rather than excluding the well off, they are universal; and instead of being based on lifetime contributions, they are funded primarily from taxation.

The 20-page report describes each of these characteristics of a basic income, overviews the history of the idea, and describes various types of basic income and related policies, such as a negative income tax and cash transfers. Alston also lays out some examples of the possible cost of implementing a basic income scheme.

Alston holds that “the basic income concept should not be rejected out of hand on the grounds that it is utopian” and encourages further discussion of the policy as a means to alleviate economic insecurity and promote human rights and social justice. He additionally urges that the debate on basic income be united with that on social protection floors.


Further Viewing and Reading

The June 8 panel discussion will be broadcast live online here.

The full report on universal basic income of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights is available in the UN’s document repository or can be directly downloaded as a PDF here.

Reviewed by Genevieve Shanahan

Photo: Human Rights Council during 15th Session, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 UN Geneva