Author Archives: Sam Wade

The Liberal case for a Universal Basic Income

Following the economic downturn of COVID-19, a renewed interest has emerged in the idea of a Universal Basic Income (UBI). This development has been visible on the UK political scene, with 170 MPs and Lords calling for an “Emergency UBI” in the wake of the first national lockdown.

In practice, a UBI would give every citizen a guaranteed weekly government payment to supplement their main earnings. In effect, it would provide those hit hardest by the COVID recession with a baseline economic security; “a basic income floor”, as Prospect puts it.

In being an expansion of the welfare state, advocacy of a UBI tends to be more common on the ideological left. Indeed, it was the leftist Green Party who advocated such a scheme in the UK’s last General Election, in proposing that every citizen receive a minimum of £89 per week by 2025.

But should the UBIs appeal be limited to those on the left, or can it find favour with a broader demographic? It is true that the concept has received support from contemporary figures across the political spectrum, with noteworthy examples including the free market economist Milton Friedman, the left-leaning economist Thomas Piketty, and the former US President Barack Obama.

It is my belief that the introduction of a UBI is a cause which all liberals should get behind. With its potential to facilitate greater individual freedom and economic opportunity, as well as an enhanced sense of social justice, I believe it aligns fully with modern liberal values.

It has long been understood by liberals that freedom from economic deprivation is as vital a consideration as freedom from physical harm. If a person is deprived the necessities of living, they can hardly be free to pursue a productive, prosperous life. It is for this reason that liberals uphold the need for a sufficiently sized government safety net. But with recent years witnessing a continual rise in the UK poverty levels, as seen in the upsurge in food bank usage, it would appear undeniable that the country’s current safety net is deficient in its size and outcomes.

Such a predicament is set to be compounded by the economic downtown inflicted by COVID-19. According to the Office of Budgetary Responsibility, as many as 3.5 million UK residents could find themselves unemployed in 2021. Such economic wounds would no doubt be deepened by the country’s ever-rising wealth gap, with this a major issue prior to the pandemic.

Liberals must be prepared to call on the Conservative Government to undertake swift, bold action fuelled by an openness to new approaches. Simply papering over the cracks will not do; the system needs significant reform and expansion, justifying the addition of a UBI to ensure the basic living costs of every citizen can be met.

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