A first step towards basic income

Basic Income is often seen as a policy that would happen in an ideal world, with its proponents apparently lacking any idea on how to get there. In my view, advocates like myself need to outline a plan that can bring us to a workable and simple welfare state that relies heavily on basic income as its primary source of support. That is what I am proposing.

A first step towards basic income would be to mostly replace the personal allowance with a payment to every person over the age of 18. While raising the personal allowance took millions out of paying tax and reduced taxes for millions more, it did nothing for those who were already under the boundary. As Liberal Democrats we must be looking out for the least fortunate and despite the benefits of raising the personal allowance it currently does nothing for those already inside it.

Replacing the personal allowance with a payment every month would benefit even the lowest paid by thousands of pounds a year, a welcome boost for many struggling families. The best thing is that this scheme is easily able to be revenue neutral, with income tax and national insurance contributions merged there would only need to be a .5% raise in the basic rate from the combined 32% to a new 32.5%, a rise of 3% on the higher and additional rates from the combined 42% and 47% to a new 45% and 50% respectively, with the boundaries for the higher and additional rates staying the same. Even with the most pessimistic assumption of the revenue split between Employee NICs and Employer NICs, this scheme manages to be revenue neutral to within acceptable tolerance (there is a calculated net gain of £1.9bn from the new scheme).

As this shows, basic income can be a viable policy that could make a real difference to many people’s lives. I’m sure many of you know people who are struggling. What could they do with up to £60 extra a week? Now I have outlined a viable first step, it would be nice to know others thoughts on where we could go from there.

Note: personal allowance above includes both the income tax personal allowance and the national insurance allowance and the two taxes can be assumed to be merged on the employee side, with employer NICs unaffected.

* Oliver Craven is a party member in Lincoln, Sleaford and North Hykeham Liberal Democrats.

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29 Comments

  • David Evershed 14th Nov '17 - 11:36am

    An interesting idea but I would like to see the calculations.

    The personal allowance means people only get 20% of the allowance in tax relief whereas they would get 100% of the equivalent basic income payment. Also more people would qualify for the basic income than benefit from the personal allowance.

    Would the basic income payment be taxable?

  • David Cooper 14th Nov '17 - 12:56pm

    Dear Oliver,
    Your calculation seems to be based on replacing existing benefits with UI of £60 p/w for every UK resident over 18. At present our (not very generous) benefits system would give an unemployed couple with 2 children about £280 per week, over twice this amount. Are you proposing to slash benefits for the unemployed? If not, what UI figure are you proposing?

  • Oliver Craven 14th Nov '17 - 2:29pm

    @David Cooper

    This ignores benefits, merely replacing most of the personal allowance with a cash transfer to benefit those under the threshold.

    @David Evershed

    The rates are adjusted to take the differences into account and no it would not be taxable

  • The best thing is that this scheme is easily able to be revenue neutral, with income tax and national insurance contributions merged there would only need to be a .5% raise in the basic rate from the combined 32% to a new 32.5%, a rise of 3% on the higher and additional rates from the combined 42% and 47% to a new 45% and 50% respectively, with the boundaries for the higher and additional rates staying the same

    But with everybody currently earning over the personal tax allowance threshold paying an extra £3737.50 per year, which will be only partially compensated by the £3120 they will get in basic income payments? Not to mention the extra, by my count, £117.50 that someone on £35,000 will be paying due to the .5% increase in tax on the amount they are earning above the current personal allowance.

    I really can’t see that going down well at the old ballot box.

  • Peter Martin 14th Nov '17 - 3:22pm

    @Oliver,

    To qualify for a personal allowance you normally need to have a job. So removing the personal allowance, replacing it with a UBI, reduces the incentive to work. It isn’t going to be revenue or economically neutral despite what you may try to conclude with back of envelope calculations. This raises the problem of a potential inflationary aspect of a basic income. The higher the UBI the more the effect. If there is a living wage basic income strategy, it will most likely reduce the pool of available labour.

    If the Government gave every worker enough income not to have to seek employment, then most won’t seek employment. It’s just that simple. And so, the pool of available labour will shrink. This presents us with a possible demand-pull inflationary episode.

    Demand-pull inflation occurs when continuous excess spending exceeds the real ability of the economy to produce goods and services. True, while the UK might be capable of producing quite a lot, the fact is that labour plays a significant role in the process and if the labour supply is intentionally reduced, through a process of disincentivisation, then the real ability of the economy to produce goods and services is also reduced.

    A better alternative is a Job Guarantee. The Job Guarantee (JG) eliminates involuntary unemployment by creating a buffer stock of employed persons, rather than the current methodology we use, which is maintaining a buffer stock of idle workers. The JG creates a pool of workers employed in their communities to perform work that is beneficial to society. At the same time the workers can be be given support to improve their skills and general education. Their self respect is maintained. They are part of a functioning economy not set aside from it. A much better option for all!

  • Red Liberal 14th Nov '17 - 6:04pm

    @Peter Martin that “job guarantee” sounds like forced workfare to me.

  • @ Oliver Craven

    I am not sure your calculations mean that someone earning £11,500 a year will not be worse off. You may think that the next thing to do is to think of the next stage. You are wrong. You have to convince people that your first step is the correct one and we shouldn’t advocate an easier first step by not combining Income Tax and National Insurance and setting the rate at £44.23 a week at the current level of Income Tax Personal Allowance increasing to £48.08 instead of increasing the Personal Allowance to £12,500 as promised, and increasing the 2% National Insurance rate for those earning more than £45,000 to cover the increased costs.

    There is still a link between paying National Insurance and a person’s final state pension and being entitled to time-limited non-income related benefits when sick or unemployed.

    Also you haven’t suggested a solution to the problem of those earning between £100,000 and £123,000 who have an effective Income Tax rate of 60% because they lose their Personal Allowance as their income increases – £1 for every £2 earned. Without increasing their rate to 60% they will gain the full amount of the Basic Income, while those earning between £11,500 and £100,000 are not better off. It might therefore make sense to increase the Income Tax for all earnings above £100,000 to 60%.

    It is normal for everyone to receive the Basic Income no matter if they are in work or on benefits or not in work and not receiving benefits. Therefore for those not in work receiving benefits normally would have their benefits reduced by the amount of the Basic Income.

  • @ Peter Martin

    I expect you know I am a supporter of a Job Guarantee or as I prefer to call it the government being the employer of last resort. However, I don’t agree that giving someone £60 a week would mean most people would not work. There have been trials and some people give up work to study and some people (mainly women) reduce their working hours. I don’t think people only work because they have to. People are likely to work so they have more income than the basic amount. Work would have to become something people do for reasons other than the money. There are millions of people in the UK who do unpaid work and they do it for non-monetary reasons. The structure of work is likely to change and productivity will have to increase, but it is predicted that lots of jobs will be automated in the future and then a Living Income will be needed for everyone.

    @ Red Liberal

    When the government is the employer of last resort these jobs should meet the needs of those employed and be totally voluntary and should not be “forced workfare”. They should provide skills that are likely to be needed by non-government employers so these people can return to the normal pool of employed people when the conditions are right.

  • Peter Martin 14th Nov '17 - 6:20pm

    @ Red Liberal,

    It would be entirely voluntary. No compulsion at all.

    The problem with a UBI is that it would, presumably, be paid to those who make a living in the Black economy or even those in the criminal economy such as drug dealers. Providing they don’t get caught there would be no reason why they couldn’t claim the UBI.

  • Peter Martin 14th Nov '17 - 6:28pm

    @ Michael BG,

    I didn’t say that “giving someone £60 a week would mean most people would not work.”

    If the UBI is tiny then the effect would be tiny too. But the higher the UBI the more significant would be its effects. I did say that “If the Government gave every worker enough income not to have to seek employment, then most won’t seek employment. ”

    As I said to Red Liberal, the real winners from a UBI would be those in the Black and criminal economies.

    Is this really what you wish to achieve?

  • @ Peter Martin

    Under Universal Income everyone receives the same, there are no real winners. Everyone should have the same opportunities to earn extra income, in the same way as they have opportunities for a job today. The managing director and person working in the black economy all receive the Income. It does not change everyone’s behaviour. There will always be some people who break the law.

    Even if the Universal Income was £17,500 pa (£336.54 per week) some people would want to earn more and some people as I have pointed out would want to work for other reasons. It will take some time to get from £48.08 or £60 to £336.54 a week. When all work is voluntary and there are no major economic consequences for those who do not work we will truly be free.

  • David Cooper 15th Nov '17 - 7:43am

    @Oliver,
    Thanks for your explanation.

    There are two major problems with UBI.
    (1) Large numbers of low income people will gain £3K per year. People in that pay bracket live in rented property. Landlords will note that the rental market can now afford higher rents and will increase rents to the new rate that the market can bear. Thus UBI will end up as a benefit for landlords of low end rental properties.
    (2) Those who are considering stopping work (e.g. those at retirement age) will be more likely to stop working, leading to a decrease in the labour pool thus the need for higher income taxes. This is a vicious circle.

  • This would mean a 32.5 per cent marginal tax rate for the first £10,000 of income at the same time as you withdraw benefits. What will that do for incentives to work?

    Pensioners don’t pay national insurance so this would be a transfer from the working poor to the elderly. A single mum on £20,000 who pays rent gets a tax rise; a pensioner couple on £10,000 each who own their home get a big payment. It would be good for younger people who don’t work, such as rich students and stay-at-home mums in high income families.

    In short, this would be a very badly targeted welfare policy. It would mean collecting income tax from millions of people who don’t currently pay it. What are the corresponding benefits?

  • When all work is voluntary and there are no major economic consequences for those who do not work we will truly be free

    That’ll be a lot of idle hands for the Devil to employ…

  • @ David Cooper

    Your argument regarding increasing rents is an argument for not giving poor people in rented accommodation any rises in income. High rents have to be addressed even if there is no Basic Income. I advocating building 1.5 million new homes over five years and increasing the provision of social housing for rent.

    There might be an increase in the number of people who retire early, but this used to happen a lot more in the past and it wasn’t a problem. A reduction in the working population would increase wages and force employers to invest to increase productivity – a win, win situation. They might even employ untrained workers and train them – another win.

    @ RBH

    Pensioners would not be winners, they would have their pensions reduced by the amount of the Basic Income and they would have to pay National Insurance as well as Income Tax on all on their income except the Basic Income. (This is because when National Insurance and Income Tax are merged as suggested by Oliver Craven they are replace by a single tax (in his example of 32.5%) on all income including unearned income.)

    To have one tax rate of 32.5% applying on income over £11,500 would be a tax cut for people because people start paying National Insurance on earnings above £8160 a year. The person earning £20,000 would be better off – they would not pay 12% on their income between £11,500 and £8160 = £400.80 and pay £100 more (0.5%) on their total of £20,000 making them £300.80 a year better off.

    You are correct that families in which one adult stays at home will benefit and these families are likely to be ones where the working adult earns more than the average wage. This is another reason why it makes sense to increase the 2% National Insurance rate. For example if the working adult was earning £70,000, the stay at home adult would receive in my scheme £48.08 a week – £2500.16 a year and if the NI rate was increased to 12% the working adult would pay £2,500 more NI.

  • Peter Martin 15th Nov '17 - 10:55am

    @ Michael BG

    I thought you were in support of a Job Guarantee? But you support both a JB and a UBI?

    You do need to address the contradictions here. You also need to address the issue arising that taking away personal allowances from those who work and sharing it out between everyone will inevitably produce winners and losers. The workers will lose more in personal allowance than they gain in UBI. Those who don’t work at all, or at least don’t work legitimately, will be the winners.

    At present anyone who finds a job can earn up to about £11k pa without paying any tax. That’s a good incentive. Take away that incentive and we’ll have fewer workers. Its as simple as that. We’re told we need extra workers from the EU so you can’t have it both ways.

    Either we need the workers or we don’t!

  • David Cooper 15th Nov '17 - 11:57am

    @Michael BG
    You advocate building £1.5 mllion homes per year while simultaneously introducing UBI? Paid for how?

    Your dismissal the impact of reducing the income tax base does not stand up.
    A reduction in the working population would indeed “increase wages”. This would not necessarily “force employers to invest to increase productivity”… it might just destroy businesses because they can’t pay for the necessary investment. Nothing like a “win, win situation”.

  • @ Peter Martin
    “But you support both a JB and a UBI?”

    Indeed. There is no contradiction. UBI is Basic not an amount a person can live on, therefore people will still need jobs and want jobs.

    I advocate introducing a Basic Income for those in work and receiving benefits and they would lose no money. The Basic Income is a replacement either for their Income Tax Personal Allowance or part of their benefit. Therefore no worker will lose out. If the Income Tax Personal Allowance has reached £12,500 then the Basic Income would be set at £48.08 a week, as I have pointed out 16 pence more than the value of the £12,500 Personal Allowance (20% of 12,500 = 2500).

    However extending it to the 8.88 million people who are not economic active is an issue and will need paying for – £22.2 billion a year under my scheme and £27.7 billion under Oliver’s scheme. Oliver Craven is suggesting that 0.5% on the basic rate, and 3% on the other rates. I think these changes will only produce £6.35bn a year (£2.3bn from the 0.5% on basic rate, £3.6bn from 3% on the Income Tax higher rate and £0.45bn from 3% on the Income Tax additional rate https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/direct-effects-of-illustrative-tax-changes). However because he also rolls National Insurance together with Income Tax there is a cost of £400.80 per person in work, but 0.5% on £45,000 will only raise £225. Therefore his scheme will not generate the £2.3bn toward the costs of rolling it out to those who are economically inactive.

    I advocate a much more gradual roll out to these 8.88 million people. (Perhaps I should write an article setting out how this gradual roll out would work.)

    If someone finds a job for £12,500 they will pay no Income Tax once personal allowance has been increased to this level, under my scheme they would pay 20% of £12,500 – £2,500 in Income Tax and receive £2,500.16 in Basic Income. So yes this person will not receive £12,500 more in work, but if the person was receiving Jobseekers Allowance they would only be £8,698.80 (12,500 – 3,801.20) better off, and it would be the same under my scheme. So there is no reduction in incentives.

  • @ David Cooper

    Not 1.5 million new homes a year but over 5 years averaging out at 300,000 a year. Paying for UBI for the 8.88 million people who are not economically active is an issue and my solution is gradual income tax and national insurance increases for those earning more than £45,000 a year to gradually extend it to these people, if they remain economically inactive and to fund those who become economically active but earn less than £12,500 a year. If they become entitled to income rated benefits there are no extra costs than at present.

    You are correct some companies will not be able to continue to be economically efficient and will fold. There will always be some such companies and we do not advocate supporting companies just because they can’t compete in the current market conditions. The reduction in the number of people who will not need to work is likely to be small. We have for some time advocated flexible working and the Basic Income would make this easier and we have always expected companies to adapt and we should continue to do so. One of the strengths of market forces is the need for companies to adapt to changing conditions and we should not fear such changes. Liberals are traditionally optimistic about human nature and we should continue to be so. I am sure arguments that companies will be forced to fold were used against the introduction of the Minimum Wage and are still used against the National Living Wage of nearly £9 per hour being set for 2020.

  • Ed Shepherd 16th Nov '17 - 7:27am

    The National Living Wage. Is it genuinely a living wage or is it just the Minimum Wage renamed by a miserly government in order to sound better?

  • In a country where there is a shortage of people willing to do certain jobs because they are poorly paid giving everyone a basic income for doing nothing will make it virtually impossible to fill those jobs. Some people will work to increase their income and others will do cash in hand work when they need some extra money but unless there is a massive reduction in jobs because of automation there will be a real shortage of labour. More people will have to be recruited from abroad meaning more houses will be needed creating more unfillable jobs so more people needing to be recruited and so on. There will not be much left of England’s green and pleasant land. The rich will move to more pleasant places causing a loss of tax revenue.
    Those who are fit and able to work should make an appropriate contribution to the needs of society. Why should they be given money for doing nothing ? In circumstances where people do not work there is usually a massive increase in drug addiction and alcoholism because most people do not have the inner resources to cope with idleness and need to go to work but they will not do so unless they have to.

  • Peter Martin 16th Nov '17 - 12:17pm

    @ nvelope2003,

    For once we agree! I probably wouldn’t put it in such stark terms but you’re right -especially on the social effects of enforced idleness. People do need jobs to feel a sense of self worth.

    We can run the economy to ensure close to full employment but there are always going to be a couple of percent or so who aren’t easily employable. If we put our foot down harder on the economic accelerator we’ll likely just cause too much inflation.

    So what to do? The options are 1) Ignore them 2) Just hand out money anyway ie a UBI. 3) Guarantee everyone some form of a job, working for the public purpose, with training and education provided on day release to encourage them back into the mainstream job market.

    There are difficulties with all. My personal preference of a job guarantee is open to the charge of “workfare”, there’ll be difficulties if existing workers feel they are being displaced, and we will have to tackle the tricky issue of how much those on a JG are paid, their terms and conditions, union membership etc.

  • @ nvelope2003

    We should not expect there always to be a pool of foreign workers we can import to work in the UK. We should make the most of the people already resident in our country. I think there are about 3 million in the UK who could with a supportive employer be in productive work, but we lack supportive employers. We have employers who want to pay as little as possible and who do not respect their workers. If a company cannot find someone in the UK to work for them they need to either offer more money or invest in automation. A good example are fruit pickers – thousands of foreign people are employed doing this but the machinery exists for a huge reduction in the number of people employed. The UK has low productivity and this is because labour is cheap and companies would rather employ another person who they can get rid of easily rather than invest to increase the productivity of their existing workforce. Hopefully as the National Living Wage is increased every year to nearly £9 per hour in 2020, employers will value their staff more and invest to increase their productivity.

    I have always found the argument that not working cause society’s ills or adversely affects people as strange, because this does not seem to affect the very wealthy, it only applies to the poor. Therefore it is being poor which is the problem. We also think that when a person reaches a certain age it is perfectly fine for them not to be paid employment. With a Basic Income of £60 there will be very few people who can afford to give up work. I know I couldn’t live on that. Also as I pointed out above the economic incentive to work will be the same with a Basic Income of £48.08 or even £60 per week as it is today with a Jobseekers Allowance of £73.10.

  • @ Peter Martin

    Recently BBC2 has been showing programmes made by Jacques Peretti. In one of them he points out that it is a modern idea that someone is defined by the work they do. If we ever get to a truly liberal society where all work is voluntary then what we do for work will not define us and not be important for our self-worth. We will be in a much better place.

    Having a UBI is not a solution to the problem of the perceived need of having over 5% of those of working age not in employment but looking for work. Increasing the amount a person receives when unemployed to a living amount would be a great idea so that those not in work can have nearly the same amount of liberty as those in work. £73.10 a week is not that figure and nor was £67.50 in 2010. If the 2010 rate had been increased by the annual rate of inflation each year it would now be £78.56 per week, still not enough to live on. The pension rate of £159.35 per week would be an amount a single person could live on excluding rent. The old pension rate of £122.30 without the pension guarantee might well be the minimum someone can get by with for a short period of time. Even if a Basic Income was introduced in 2023 I don’t believe it would reach the level of the pension rate within my lifetime. Even if it was introduced at £53.85 a week and it was increased by 5% more than the pension, it would be 2040 when it would reach the old pension equivalent and 2045 when it would reach the new pension rate equivalent.

    A job guarantee or the government being the employer of last resort would have to be voluntary and full time training should be an alternative. I think the pay should be based on the old Employment Training scheme and be a person’s benefits plus travel expenses and an extra £30 a week. They would have to be time limited – perhaps to one year. And they must not be restricted to only working for a public purpose, but must have the goal of increasing the chances of the person finding normal paid employment in a role they would be content doing, not one they would hate of felt they were unsuitable for.

  • Peter Martin 16th Nov '17 - 3:31pm

    @ Michael BG,

    I’m not sure that “a truly liberal society” would mean that “all work is voluntary”. I’m probably more Socialist than Liberal so maybe others could correct me on that point. Incidentally, I do believe that Socialists and Liberals, and all those who are of a progressive political opinion, should talk to each other which is why I do comment on this website.

    Yes, I agree that a JG would have to be voluntary and an additional option to the £73 pw jobseekers allowance. I know that some who advocate the same type of economic agenda as myself may have a different opinion. But, that’s a matter still to be resolved.

  • Peter Martin 16th Nov '17 - 3:47pm

    PS
    @ Michael BG,

    Yes a good point that “the pension rate of £159.35 per week would be an amount a single person could live on excluding rent. ”

    So why is the Jobseekers allowance only £73.10?

    Unless Govt has a policy of full employment, which it clearly hasn’t, there is absolutely no justification for expecting unemployed workers to be able to live on less than half of a single person’s old age pension.

  • @ Peter Martin

    There are a number of answers to your question. One is that pensioners vote in great numbers and the unemployed are few and there are no votes in giving them an amount they can live on, as the public has been taught that it is the fault of the unemployed that they can’t find employment. Therefore politicians do not have to do anything about this big difference in rates. We have to work hard to change attitudes and make it a priority that the benefit level for the unemployed is much closer to the pension rate.

    “Unless Govt has a policy of full employment, which it clearly hasn’t, there is absolutely no justification for expecting unemployed workers to be able to live on less than half of a single person’s old age pension.”

    I agree.

    Liberalism is about liberty and Socialism is about economics. Both want a more equal society. For Liberals this is because we know that the more money a person has the more liberty they have and believe that everyone should have the same level of liberty. Most people believe that if they were rich enough not to work, they could find something much more worthwhile for themselves to do. They would choose to do something else instead of working. I am not convinced this is true, but each person should have the liberty to make their own decision.

  • Peter Hirst 17th Nov '17 - 5:25pm

    The trouble with all universal payments is that some do not need it and should not receive it. It does simplify the bureaucracy however. What about taking out those paying the top level of income tax?

  • @ Peter Hirst

    At the moment a person’s Income Tax Personal Allowance is withdrawn gradually by £1 for every £2 they earn above £100,000. Therefore it makes sense that they receive the Universal Basic Income as they gradually lose it. If there was a fixed cut off, then the marginal rate of “taxation” would be very high. For example if the cut of point was £100,000 they would have a negative level of “taxation” if the UBI was £48.08 for almost their next £107 of income. If everyone receives a benefit it has no stigma and can normalise receiving benefits to make them more publically acceptable.

    Your question does raise the idea of extending the claw back Income Tax band as the Basic Income is increased. If the Basic Income is increased by £100 a year then the claw back band could be extended by £500, to ensure those earning more than the top rate of this band do not benefit from increases in the Basic Income and reduce the cost, a little, of increases to the level of Basic Income.

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