Oxford Union votes against introducing UBI

Oxford Union votes against introducing UBI

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:

  1. To lift people out of poverty and provide a basic standard of living to everybody “without fear or favour”.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

36:34 Marco 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.

01:10:34 William 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.

Basic Income trial confirmed in Wales

Mark Drakeford, Wales’ new First Minister, announced soon after the Senedd elections in May that the government will launch a basic income trial in the country. As Basic Income News mentioned over a month ago, the support for trialing basic income in the country has greatly increased and Drakeford has confirmed that a pilot will be launched soon.

Jane Hutt, recently appointed as Minister for Social Justice, will be in charge of the supervision of the project. There is still no definitive information regarding the funding and date of implementation of the pilot, but the government’s commitment is firm. “A basic income pilot is one of the specific responsibilities of our new social justice minister. It will have to be carefully designed, it will draw on the experience of attempted pilots in Scotland, but I have a very long standing interest in basic income”, Drakeford said. “We’ll do it on a cross-party basis. There are 25 members of the Senedd in different parties who have expressed an interest in it,” he added.

The Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, Sophie Howes, said that the launching of the pilot shows an “incredibly significant commitment by the First Minister to tackling Wales’ poverty and health inequalities,” and that this trial shows that small countries can lead big policy changes.

Jonathan Rhys Williams, from UBI Lab Wales, said that “this is a huge moment for the basic income movement in the UK and around the world.”

Wales to launch pilot universal basic income scheme. Steven Morris (The Guardian), 14 May 2021
Incredibly significant’: First minister commits to basic income pilot in Wales. Nation Cymru, 14 May 2021

United Kingdom: Presentation of Peter Sloman’s new book in London

United Kingdom: Presentation of Peter Sloman’s new book in London

Basic Income Hub is organizing an event in which Peter Sloman will present his new book “Transfer State: The Idea of a Guaranteed Income and the Politics of Redistribution in Modern Britain“, together with Barb Jacobson and Michael Pugh. Barb is a Director at Basic Income UK and has been a prominent basic income activist for many years and Michael Pugh is the Co-Founder and Director of the Basic Income Hub, a new initiative powered by Compass.

The event will happen on the 17th of February, at Compass, 81a Endell Street WC2H 9DX London, from 6 to 8 pm. Registration can be done here.

United Kingdom: Lib Dems in Hull call on Government to consider piloting Universal Basic Income in the City

United Kingdom: Lib Dems in Hull call on Government to consider piloting Universal Basic Income in the City

The Liberal Democrats in Hull have tabled a motion to Hull City Council that calls for the Chief Executive Matt Jukes to write to Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid, requesting Government support to pilot Universal Basic Income (UBI) in Hull.

The Liberal Democrat Councillor Paul Drake-Davis, is moving the motion in a bid to tackle “increasing job insecurity” and says Universal Basic income will “help people reach their full creative and economic potential.”

Similar motions have been passed recently by Liverpool City Council and Sheffield City Council. In addition, UBI Labs have been set up to explore the potential of the policy being piloted regionally in Leeds, Sheffield and Kirklees.

Paul Drake-Davis as added, just before the actual meeting at Hull City Council, over which his motion on “local economy and the Universal Basic Income pilot” was to be presented

We live in a world of increasing job insecurity, where more and more people in Hull and across the UK are struggling to plan and build a better future for themselves and their families. Instead, people are just focused on surviving month-to-month, there needs to be a change to the system. 

I feel Hull, being a pioneering and progressive city, should join groundbreaking studies which are already taking place across the country to see if a Universal Basic Income has the potential to positively transform the lives and thereby the economy, wealth and wellbeing of our city.

The motion itself argues that UBI “has the potential to improve wellbeing and provide another boost to our local economy and share out prosperity in the city by safeguarding its most vulnerable residents”. It draws attention to present-day economic precariousness, and job insecurity, which are threatening people’s livelihood, and so calls for a UBI pilot scheme in the city of Hull.

As a result of the above-mentioned meeting, the motion at stake was passed, although much is still to be done, regarding organizing and securing funding for the UBI experiment.

More information at:

André Coelho, “United Kingdom: Lib Dem candidates back basic income pilots“, Basic Income News, December 10th 2019

André Coelho, “United Kingdom: Liverpool’s mayor and councillors bent on trying UBI“, Basic Income News, August 1st 2019

United Kingdom: Lib Dem candidates back basic income pilots

United Kingdom: Lib Dem candidates back basic income pilots

Jane Dodds and Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson. Picture credit to: The Week

Over fifty candidates for the UK’s Liberal Democrat party (Lib Dem) have signed a personal commitment to back basic income pilots in the next parliament, if elected.

The intention to run these basic income pilots, which would be implemented by removing conditionality rules from the standard element of the main Universal Credit benefit system, is already an official part of the party platform, voted for by Lib Dem members this autumn as part of the party’s ‘A Fairer Share For All’ package of anti-poverty proposals. With social security issues low on the agenda in the election overall, however, a number of the party’s candidates signed a separate declaration to bring attention to the policy.

The Liberal Democrats have a comparatively long history with minimum income as an idea, with citizens’ income proposals forming part of the party’s platform in its 1992 manifesto, and in recent years their proposals to abolish the sanctions system for social security, which they adopted in 2016, have seen them move back towards unconditional income policies. This comes alongside the Lib Dems’ wider pledges to spend more money on social security, abolish benefit sanctions, and end many of the other restrictions and claim delays that have caused problems with the Universal Credit system since its introduction. Lib Dems have been recognized by the Resolution Foundation to have progressive policies on welfare issues.

The backers of the minimum income statement, which was organized by a group of party activists, come from across Britain, covering all nations and regions and both urban and rural areas. Notable signatories include Andrew George, James Cox, Jasmine Sakura-Rose and Jane Dodds (Welsh Liberal Democrat), who has publicly spoken out in favor of the idea.

Quotes from signatories:

“I support a minimum income because it gives people the power to say no to exploitative jobs and a base from which to work to better themselves. Only with a minimum income or UBI in place can we begin to support real freedom for all.” – Oliver Craven, candidate for Sleaford and North Hykeham

“We can’t carry on with a system that doesn’t ensure that people have a stable, reliable minimum level of income. The instability people face under the current social security system badly impacts on their health and wellbeing, and we have to find a way out of that.” – Josie Ratcliffe, candidate for South West Norfolk

“As a Lib Dem I believe in empowering people, and one of the most important parts of that is ensuring they can care for themselves and their communities and pursue their own paths and goals without the constantly looming threat of income insecurity that so many people currently face.” – Charley Hasted, candidate for Eltham

More information at:

Jane Dodds, “Why the Welsh Liberal Democrats want to trial Universal Basic Income in Wales”, Nation Cymru, March 2nd 2019

This article was written by James Baillie. Edited and reviewed by André Coelho.