UK: University College London research group recommends Universal Basic Services over Universal Basic Income
The Social Prosperity Network, a research network at University College London’s Institute for Global Prosperity (IGP), released a report this month arguing for Universal Basic Services for the UK.
The authors propose that the UK expand its set of free and universal public services to include shelter (social housing), food, transportation (e.g. bus passes), and information (e.g. internet access), in addition to the National Health Service, public education, and public legal services.
Like universal basic income, Universal Basic Services (UBS) are intended to secure the necessary means to a life for everyone, unconditionally. The unconditionality of the benefits is a key distinctive feature. As IGP’s Andrew Percy writes in the introduction to the report, the Social Prosperity Network has been motivated by the challenge to design a modern social safety net that is “[m]ore flexible and effective than the conditional benefits system we have inherited”.
As IGP Director Henrietta Moore mentions in the forward to the report, the authors have been inspired in their thinking by the recent global interest in basic income. Percy refers to the policies as “complementary components of a sustainable future for social welfare”:
Progressive proponents of a UBI assume the pre-existence of a platform of social welfare services, and advocates of UBS must acknowledge that there are both personal and specific needs that will require some form of monetary distribution to preserve freedom and agency.
While it is clear that Percy does not rule out UBI on matters of principle, he does maintain that UBS is a more effective use of available government revenue.
Jonathan Portes, Professor of Economics and Public Policy at King’s College London, contributes a discussion paper to the report in which (in part) he contrasts UBS with several other potential solutions to challenges currently facing the UK economy. Although he devotes more attention to basic income than other competing options, Portes worries that UBI fails to address the main shortcomings of the UK welfare system (housing and disability benefits), that it would be prohibitively expensive if paid at an adequate level, and that it could devalue the importance of workforce participation. He concludes that “while some version of a basic income may be a useful complement to ambitious reforms of the welfare system, expecting basic income on its own to be ‘the answer’ is neither realistic nor desirable”.
Technical analyses of the cost and distributional impact of UBS are contributed by Howard Reed of Landman Economics (a name familiar in UBI circles as the coauthor of last year’s report “Universal Basic Income: An idea whose time has come?” for the UK think tank Compass).
Download the full report here: “Social prosperity for the future: A proposal for Universal Basic Services”
Reviewed by Dawn Howard
Photo: Demonstrators in London, UK, CC BY 2.0 DAVID HOLT