Citizen’s Basic Income – Brave enough or stupid enough?

Written by: Andrew Strong, Assistant Director (Policy and Communications), the ALLIANCE

Published: 25/08/2017

Off the back of a new Health and Social Care Academy insight paper, Andrew looks at the debate surrounding 'CBI'.

Evan Davis’ opening lines in this 2015 Newsnight piece to camera tell you a lot about the divisive nature of the concept behind a citizen’s basic income (CBI).  The Dragon’s Den presenter turns to camera and, with a sigh, says “few countries have been brave enough… or perhaps stupid enough to adopt it” before rolling VT on a report its introduction in Finland.

CBI isn’t a new idea – but has been often met with such cynicism when introduced to discussions about the future of social security.  The idea is simple – scrap the existing pensions and social security system, with its riddle of mazes and bureaucratic assessment processes, and replace them with a flat, tax free payment to every adult.  This would not include any form of means testing or conditionality and is paid on an individual basis to everyone, in cash, who can then decide how they spend it.

One of the most interesting aspects of CBI is that it throws up unusual alliances from across the political spectrum – as people who have interest in both increasing and reducing the state’s influence in people’s lives see it as a catalyst to reaching their aims.

Its recent re-emergence coincides with attempts across Europe to introduce it – at varying scales. In Scotland, this includes two pilot sites in Glasgow and Fife where anti-poverty measures are being trialled.  The Scottish National Party, in Government at Holyrood, passed a resolution at a recent party conference (this link will take you away from our website) supporting the principle of a universal income.

Within this context that the Health and Social Care Academy’s new insight paper (this link will take you away from our website) links CBI to “emphasising humanity, values and flourishing”, one of our provocations for the future of health and social care, as it places an overdue emphasis on breaking down the existing ‘them’ and ‘us’ relationship which has evolved over time between people and the state in relation to social security.

Our paper argues that a basic income has the potential to transform the relationship between people who live with long term conditions, disabled people and unpaid carers and the state – but its certainly not a magic bullet.  Policy makers must closely consider both the political and the social impact of introducing a CBI and the difference it could make to existing service provision and the potential unintended consequence of shrinking state support.

Close consideration and learning from the pilot sites should give us some insight and enable the debate to move on from simply “bravery or stupidity”.

Health and Social Care Academy: Emphasising Humanity and Human Rights: Citizen’s Basic Income (this link will take you away from our website)

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