Artificial Intelligence means we need a Universal Basic Income

There continues to be severe pressure on various UK public services, such as health, criminal justice, and social care. Reform of these services is badly needed, to improve outcomes for service users, patients, and victims, as well as providing value to the public purse.

However, the UK’s poor economic outlook makes reform challenging. The UK’s productivity is lower than France and Germany, the number of long-term sick has risen by 500,000 since Covid, and the annual cost of servicing Government debt is £83 billion in interest payments alone.

Artificial Intelligence

Yet there is a potential solution – Artificial Intelligence (AI) – which consultancy PwC says could grow the UK economy by 10% (£232 billion) by 2030. The predicted gains are from boosting innovation and increasing productivity, which can then make public services more effective.

Examples of how AI can reform public services, include: smart transportation, fraud detection, energy management, remote monitoring and more.

For example, AI could be used in healthcare to anticipate when someone may need preventative support, while internet-of-things devices could be used to help support the elderly. Predictive analytics could be used to identify businesses best-placed to receive grants and loans.

The introduction AI is already happening, and the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change has proposed a range of recommendations to improve the UK’s readiness and abilities in this area.

The potential knock-on effects of AI – such as on the protection of personal data and the jobs market – do need careful oversight and solutions.

Protecting personal data

There are growing risks to people from governments and businesses holding large amounts of their personal data, and as well from rogue algorithms.

However, with the right regulations and use of technology (such as blockchain), data can be broadly decentralised and controlled by people, rather than by state officials or corporations.

Additionally, if coding was open source, then algorithms can be effectively monitored and challenged by regulators, journalists, and technology experts.

Managing disruption to jobs

PwC estimates that 30% of UK jobs could become automated by the mid 2030s, which is concerning. While the introduction of technology in a sector can also lead to wage stagnation.

However, the World Economic Forum says there are “96 jobs of tomorrow” in digital and human-facing roles. These are broadly across seven sectors – care, data and AI, engineering / cloud computing, the green economy, people / culture, product development and sales / marketing.

Yet UK employers have generally been poor at upskilling or reskilling workers in areas where there are skills shortages, and this needs to urgently change.

Universal Basic Income

Even with a shift in upskilling and reskilling, the use of AI also necessitates a rethink on Government tax and spending to protect society.

This could involve introducing a Universal Basic Income (UBI) – a regular payment to adults below retirement age. The potential scale of this leads to invariably questions about affordability.

However, Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, said in 2021: “Artificial intelligence will create so much wealth that every adult in the United States could be paid $13,500 per year from its windfall as soon as 10 years from now.”

AI would bring in additional tax revenues from growing the economy – potentially tens of billions of pounds. Additional taxes on automation could be introduced. While income tax and national insurance could be reformed (with no loss to anyone) to take into account the introduction of UBI.

Identifying further revenue then becomes a question of political priorities. Altman proposes raising revenue from businesses and land values. Economist Yanis Varoufakis, who prefers the term ‘universal basic dividend’, advocates funding it from quantitative easing and corporate dividends.

As well as offering financial protection, the introduction of UBI could stimulate creativity and entrepreneurialism, positively reshaping economic freedom and happiness within society.


The use of AI can lead to more effective public services, alongside higher economic growth. If the challenges associated with AI can be managed, with improved readiness, UBI, proper reskilling and upskilling, and data safeguards, then the UK will be well placed to seize this opportunity.

* Mike Giles is a Lib Dem councillor in South Oxfordshire.

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  • Peter Martin 29th Sep '23 - 6:56pm

    I seem to remember similar arguments some 40 or so years ago when computers, computerisation, and automation were starting to generate similar concerns. It didn’t happen then and I doubt it will happen now.

    But if I’m wrong about that how about we share out the work more evenly and have longer holidays and a shorter working week?

    In any case the current Lib Dem argument, which is perfectly valid, is that we need more immigration because we don’t have enough people to do all the jobs that need to be done. Will that have to change?

  • Simon McGrath 29th Sep '23 - 9:40pm

    Still no actual costing – always seems to be missing from UBI articles.

  • @ Peter Martin.. Yep, exactly right. Every time since the industrial revolution that some big technical innovation has come along allowing jobs to be automated, people have claimed it would lead to massive new permanent unemployment. Yet every time, what has actually happened is that people and businesses have adapted, creating new jobs that didn’t exist before and allowing the country to enjoy a higher standard of living as a result of the greater automation while keeping broadly full employment. And if the market economy is functioning correctly, that is exactly what you’d expect to happen. There’s really no reason to think that AI will be any different.

    Mike Giles is correct to raise hopes that AI may allow greater automation in service provision, allowing services to improve. But there really is no argument that this in any way justifies UBI.

  • >”Artificial intelligence will create so much wealth that every adult in the United States could be paid $13,500 per year from its windfall…”

    There is a huge unspoken assumption behind this statement, namely profitability goes u
    And stays up, ie. You are going be paying more for stuff, so that sales can generate the huge revenues needed to pay the windfall and keeping the windfall every year.

    Put simply, for the windfall to occur a worker will need to be replaced by automation, which will have costs associated with it, and effectively for the people replaced to be granted a wage/allowance (additional cost to be carried by the product) which is likely to be significantly lower than the wage the person received when they performed the job.

    Whilst it is a nice dream to think of people being paid to live in a leisured society, reality suggests it will be otherwise, with the wealth created being distributed across a small group of people who in the main will have inherited their positions – much like the late era Victorian who lived off the wealth the early Victorians created.

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