On 29th April 2021 the prestigious Oxford Union Society hosted a panel of students, activists, politicians and scholars to debate the motion ‘This House Would Introduce a Universal Basic Income’.
The debate began with the majority (68%) voting in favour of introducing a Universal Basic Income (UBI) and the remaining 32% voting against it. After hearing a total of 8 panelists’ arguments for and against the motion, the majority shifted in the closing poll to a marginal victory for the opposition, with 54% voting against introducing a UBI and 46% voting for it.
The full debate can be watched on the Oxford Union’s YouTube channel here, with a programme of the speakers and summary of their key arguments provided below.
00:33 – Opening up the case for the proposition, Classical Archaeological and Ancient History student Ambika Sehgal drew on anecdotal evidence from victims of flaws in the DWP’s (Department for Work and Pensions) systems, experiences from the Covid-19 pandemic, and accounts of early forms of UBI in Ancient Greek societies to make three arguments for the motion:
To lift people out of poverty and provide a basic standard of living to everybody “without fear or favour”.
To increase the wealth of the entire population by giving everybody the freedom to upskill, reeducate, take on more prosperous jobs, or start their own business.
To prevent the inevitable economic catastrophe that we are approaching as a result of the automation of skilled industries.
10:52 – Rebutting with the opening case for the opposition, Eliza Dean, first year Classics and French student and Member of the Union’s Secretaries Committee, denounced UBI as the solution to our current economic and political struggles, arguing instead for better funding of existing state welfare systems and a return to greater recognition of the value of labour in society.
20:58 – Professor Guy Standing, Professorial Research Associate at SOAS University of London and founding member of BIEN, outlined the fundamental ethical – as opposed to instrumental – rationale for introducing a UBI, arguing that we have an ethical justification to introduce UBI to resolve the unequal distribution of wealth created by rentier capitalism.
Rounding off his argument for the proposition, Professor Standing drew on his extensive experience working on over 50 pilots to outline some of the key findings of research on UBI:
It improves individual mental and physical health.
It reduces people’s stress.
It leads to better school attendance.
It increases work and its productivity, leading people to be more innovative and altruistic in their work because people feel more able to act in such a way.
It helps to reduce debt.
It leads to a greater sense of social solidarity.
36:34Marco Annunziata, former Chief Economist and Head of Business Innovation Strategy at General Electric, invoked suggestions for the necessary rise in taxes, the case to offer the same amount to the rich and poor, and the disincentives to work as evidence that a UBI is both unaffordable, unjust and riddled with unintended consequences.
48:53 Drawing on simulations run by the RSA (Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) Anthony Painter, Chief Research & Impact Officer, made the economic case for UBI, citing its ability to make up for inadequacies in existing social support systems by offering a hardwired economic platform for all in society.
59:50 Regarding UBI a ‘recurring revenant’ throughout his career, Professor Hilmar Schneider, Director of the Institute of Labour Economics in Bonn, cited the experience of the German pension system and his own research conducting funding and behavioral responses simulation models to argue against the motion. Pointing to the fact that most UBI pilots rely on external funding sources, Professor Schneider argued that the strongest argument against a UBI lies in its unaffordability, as it would ultimately result in more people losing money than gaining money.
01:10:34William Greve, first year Philosophy, Politics and Economics student and Sponsorship Officer at the Oxford Union,consolidated the arguments made by the panelists to round off the underlying economic and liberal arguments for a UBI:
That is the most effective way to counter the wealth inequality and unjust returns to capital observed in the modern economy that leave labour so unjustly rewarded.
That it is reasonable to demand that all individuals in a society be entitled to a share of the total wealth of society a basic level of economic security.
That it would fundamentally change our relationship with employment for the better.
Drawing on Professor Schneider’s earlier remarks on the case against higher income taxes (owing to the fact that the majority of wealth that exists in the modern economy is not received as an income in the traditional sense), William also argued that a wealth tax, not an income tax, is the most just and feasible way to fund UBI.
01:21:30 Rt Hon Jon Cruddas, Labour MP for Dagenham and Rainham and Former Coordinator for the Labour Party, rounded off the case for the opposition by arguing that those advocating for UBI should remain cautious when their political opponents also support the scheme for radically different outcomes. Noting the many cross-spectrum and cross-ideological arguments for and against the motion, he also pointed to the more ‘mundane and practical’ issues with introducing UBI, such as financial feasibility, its efficacy compared to its alternatives, and what accompanying policies are required to ensure desired outcomes.
Concluding the case against UBI, Rt Hon Cruddas hammered home his argument for the dignity of labour and questioned the role that UBI would play in creating decent work. All but entirely dismissing concerns around automation and the future availability of work, he argued that we should instead be organizing for collective rights, strong unions, income guarantees and above all, dignified labour. He argued that there is a strong case against UBI if you consider that the nature of work thesis is flawed, and that the debate around the future of work is an inherently political one. UBI, he suggested, could transform citizens into ‘passengers of capitalism’, robbing them of meaning and dignity, and leaving them more isolated, vulnerable, angry and humiliated, and society itself less fraternal and solidaristic.
The march, sponsored by Fund for Humanity, is due to take place in cities around the world and will see the largest ever organised series of events promoting Basic Income for all.
The first Basic Income March was held on October 26th last year, when thirty Basic Income March events took place in thirty cities around the world, and a total of 10,000 people marched together for Basic Income.
This year promises even more support from sponsors and partners with 29 marches already organised in cities around the world. Find your nearest Basic Income March event or organise your own here.
Fraichement composé, le gouvernement de la 33ème chambre basse du parlement irlandais s’est engagé à expérimenter le Revenu de Base en Irlande pendant les cinq prochaines années. L’annonce a été faite dans le Programme de Gouvernement porté par les partis Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil et le Parti Vert. Le document énumère une longue liste d’actions que le gouvernement veut mettre en œuvre, dont l’engagement à inclure le Revenu de Base, au titre des « Mesures de lutte contre la pauvreté et pour l’inclusion sociale » –cf page 86 du document-.
[Nous allons] demander à la Commission des bas salaires d’examiner le Revenu Universel de Base, sur la base d’une étude préalable de la synthèse des expériences menées dans d’autres pays et ce pour permettre une expérimentation pendant que ce gouvernement actuel sera en fonction.
Si le plan est mené à bien, l’Irlande grossira les rangs des pays qui ont commencé à élaborer des plans concrets pour créer telle ou telle forme de Revenu de Base. Toutefois des questions ont été soulevées sur la fermeté des engagements pris et sur la manière dont ils seront concrètement déployés.
Anne Ryan, Coordinatrice associée du Revenu de Base en Irlande- l’instance nationale de promotion du Revenu de Base- a commenté :
Nous aimerions voir cette annonce comme une composante d’un engagement à mettre en œuvre un revenu de base permanent pour tous dans les cinq prochaines années.
Des expérimentations et des projets pilotes ont déjà été réalisés en Europe et dans le monde et tous ont fait la preuve de leurs effets positifs. Le choix de repartir dans un mode expérimental en Irlande pourrait ne pas être la meilleure solution, ni la meilleure utilisation du temps et des financements, étant donné qu’il est déjà avéré que le revenu de base est un élément essentiel et structurant d’une société du prendre soin et d’une économie sensée, piliers d’inclusion et d’égalité.
D’autres préoccupations ont été exprimées au sujet de la décision de nommer la Commission des Bas Salaires en tant que garante des engagements, et du risque que des affrontements politiques internes pourraient faire courir sur les expérimentations envisagées.
Le Programme de Gouvernement prévoit de confier à la Commission des Bas Salaires (Low Pay Commission : LPC) l’examen du Revenu Universel de Base. Les questions relatives à la définition du plancher minimum en dessous duquel le niveau de vie de ses citoyens ne devrait pas glisser vont bien au-delà des attributions du LPC. La Commission du bien-être social et de la fiscalité serait un interlocuteur bien plus approprié sur ce sujet (p. 3).
Toute décision de déplacer l’examen du Revenu de Base vers un autre organe nécessiterait un consensus entre les trois partis, et bien que Fianna Fáil et le Parti vert aient précédemment affirmé leur soutien au Revenu de Base, Fine Gael en a systématiquement rejeté l’idée.
Le Dr Seán Healy, PDG de Social Justice en Irlande – qui promeut le Revenu de Base en Irlande depuis 35 ans – a ajouté:
Il faut veiller à ce que cette initiative ne soit pas abandonnée en raison de l’opposition d’un seul parti politique, alors qu’une majorité du gouvernement est prête à lui donner toutes ses chances. En 2002, le Gouvernement irlandais a publié un livre vert sur le Revenu de Base qui était relativement positif – il est impératif que nous ne répétions pas les erreurs du passé pour que cette proposition soit examinée de manière équitable.
La manière dont les engagements du Programme de Gouvernement vont se matérialiser dépend beaucoup de l’examen des propositions et de la forme que prendra l’expérimentation. L’accent doit être mis sur la garantie que tout se déroule dans un esprit positif, sous la houlette de personnes qui ont un intérêt sincère à faire advenir le Revenu de Base.
There is a translation of this article into French
The newly formed Government of the 33rd Dáil has committed to trialling Basic Income (BI) in Ireland over the next five years. The announcement was made in the Programme for Government (PfG) agreed between Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party. The document details a long list of actions that the next government aims to implement, with this commitment on BI being included under ‘Anti-poverty and Social Inclusion Measures’ on p.86:
[We will] request the Low Pay Commission to examine Universal Basic Income, informed by a review of previous international pilots, and resulting in a universal basic income pilot in the lifetime of the Government.
If the plans go ahead Ireland will join a growing list of countries that have begun making concrete plans to implement a form of Basic Income, but questions have been raised over the substance of the commitments made, and how they will play out in practice.
Anne Ryan, Joint Co-ordinator atBasic Income Ireland – the national body for the promotion of a BI in Ireland – commented:
We would like to see this as part of a commitment to introduce a full permanent basic income for all within the next five years. Trials and pilots have already been carried out in Europe and worldwide and all have shown positive effects. Replicating them in Ireland may not be the best use of time and money when we already know that basic income is one key element of the infrastructure for building a caring society, smart economy, inclusiveness and equality.
Further concerns have been raised over the decision to appoint the Low Pay Comission to lead on the commitments, and the risk that political in-fighting poses for the focus and relevance of any agreed trial.
The PfG contains a plan to have the Low Pay Commission (LPC) examine Universal Basic Income. Issues relating to the role of government in providing a minimum floor below which the living standards of its citizens should not slip go far beyond the remit of the LPC. The Commission on Welfare and Taxation would be a far more appropriate home.(p.3)
Any decision to shift the examination of BI to a different body would require consensus among the three parties, and whilst Fianna Fáil and the Green Party have previously outlined support for BI, Fine Gael has consistently rejected the idea.
Dr Seán Healy, CEO of Social Justice Ireland – who has promoted BI in Ireland for 35 years – added:
Care must be taken to ensure this initiative is not defeated because of the opposition of a single political party when a majority of the Government are prepared to give it a fair trial. In 2002, the Irish Government published a Green Paper on Basic Income which was relatively positive – it is imperative that we do not have a repetition of the failure to give the proposal fair consideration.
How the PfG commitment pans out will therefore depend very much on both the character of the review and the design of the trial. The focus must be on ensuring that these proceed in a positive spirit, led by people who have a genuine interest in making BI a reality.
BIEN’s 2021 annual congress took place from the 18th to the 21st August 2021. The website for this online congress, containing the agenda, attendees, questions and answers, and much more, is still available: click here.
BIEN’s 2022 Congress will be held in Brisbane, Australia, from Monday 26th to Wednesday 28th September 2022. This will be a hybrid face to face and online event. Further details will appear here as soon as they are known.
A Basic Income is a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means-test or work requirement. Read more