Let’s tackle entrenched inequality with a Universal Basic Income

As a local Councillor in one of the most diverse wards in London, I am acutely aware of the entrenched inequality that exists within certain sections of the country. This has been further tragically exposed by the current coronavirus crisis. My ward, Alperton, is amongst the hardest hit in Brent, with one of the highest death rates in the borough.

Government studies which show the disproportionate way that this virus is impacting certain ethnic groups and also a Brent commissioned poverty report published in August, seek to shed a light on why my borough was so gravely impacted. In some respects, it was a perfect storm – high levels of poverty, exploited front line workers, many of whom are from ethnic minority backgrounds and overcrowded, poor housing that allowed the virus to rip a hole right through our community; one that will take a lot to heal and recover from. 

It is clear that the only way to recover and ensure that the most vulnerable groups are safeguarded into the future is to seek to address the inequalities that exist in our country. That is why I wholeheartedly support the introduction of a Universal Basic Income. A guaranteed annual income for every citizen provided by the Government.

As a party, the Liberal Democrats have always been at the forefront in calling for major social change to tackle the big issues we face. It is absolutely right we do so again now. 

If we are truly going to ‘build back better’ and create a society and economy that works for all, we need to think big about seeking to correct the imbalances that exist and level the playing field. It really should not have taken a global pandemic to make racial injustice a topic of conversation for the political elite. This isn’t anything new. Our economy has always relied on the hard graft of key workers, predominantly from ethnic minority backgrounds, who are often working in difficult conditions, and for uncompetitive pay. Ethnic minority communities have been so impacted because so many people weren’t able to conduct work via Zoom. They had to show up, they had to expose themselves to more risk. Often they then had to go home to overcrowded accommodation, with others who had been out all day on the frontline. I believe we can start to correct this deep rooted inequality with a Universal Basic Income. 

A Universal Basic Income would give an additional safety net to so many people in our country, who at present are simply just getting by. In today’s Britain we still witness people living in wholly unsuitable conditions and as we’ve seen, exposed to dangerous circumstances. We cannot deny the impact that COVID-19 will have on our future and nor should we assume that we will not face another pandemic of this scale in our lifetime again. We need to start planning for the future, and give people the chance to prepare themselves for such a crisis, and I believe a Universal Basic Income will provide that foundation. 

The liberal way has always been to expand opportunity for all. It is time we embraced a Universal Basic Income as a way to build the fairer society we all want to see and ensure that those who have been so tragically impacted by COVID-19, like many of the residents I represent, are given the opportunity to build a dignified and prosperous future, something we all deserve.




* Anton Georgiou is a Liberal Democrat member in Brent

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  • Oh, dear. Here we go again, giving the same amount to billionaires as we give to rough sleepers.

  • Peter Martin 9th Sep '20 - 11:23am

    It’s another of those “wouldn’t it be a nice idea if the Govt gave us all some money” articles. No figures. No details of how it all will work.

    Why not help out those who need help by providing them with paid employment at a living wage? Obviously this is going to be problematic for many rough sleepers and homeless people who might also have drugs and alcohol problem. But if they’d been offered this when they initially got into difficulties then they wouldn’t be in such a bad condition in the first place.

    We have to start somewhere.


  • Stephen Howse 9th Sep '20 - 11:34am

    “Let’s tackle entrenched inequality with a Universal Basic Income”

    Um, how does UBI do this given the whole point is it’s *universal* and therefore everyone’s incomes will increase by the same amount? On its own, it fails the test set by the author. The piece does go on to talk about giving people a safety net, but that’s not the same as tackling entrenched inequality.

  • John Marriott 9th Sep '20 - 11:43am

    Let’s not. What is it about the idealism of youth? It reminds me about the story of the old bull and the young bull eying a herd of cows. However, it would never get past the editors!

  • I just can’t see this working at more than survival levels, income tax would have to rise to something like 70 percent to fund it but it would help the low paid and punish someone on a million quid a year so as a far left strategy it has a lot of merit. If you were putting everyone on 20k a year, say, couples would be a lot better off after paying fixed costs than singles and it would ruin the Green credentials of the party by encouraging people to have lots of kids who will go on en masse to do terrible damage to the planet just by the amount they consume.

  • Simon McGrath 9th Sep '20 - 12:30pm

    Could you give us a rough costing please ?

  • Laurence Cox 9th Sep '20 - 12:35pm

    We already have a UBI policy for one segment of the population, as the Citizens’ Pension has been party policy since 2004; even the Evening Standard couldn’t find anything to say against it: https://www.standard.co.uk/news/lib-dems-pledge-on-citizens-pension-6959496.html

    Arguably, the age group that most needs a Basic Income, once we have eliminated pensioner poverty through the Citizens’ Pension, are those in their fifties and early sixties who, if they become unemployed are very unlikely ever to work again. We have seen the campaigns by the WASPI women over changes in State Pension Age, but otherwise this group’s needs remain unnoticed.

  • Julian Tisi 9th Sep '20 - 12:45pm

    Seriously? Yet another article about UBI which says nothing about cost or practicalities or why exactly a UBI would be better than other ways of spending similar amounts of money to improve the lives of those in need. It’s just UBI as a panacea, so let’s just ignore those concerns. If we are to have yet more UBI articles can we please start to address these concerns, e.g. here: https://www.libdemvoice.org/what-kind-of-universal-basic-income-do-you-support-65686.html

  • The current pandemic has shown why we need UBI. A bunch of hastily put together schemes which have left so many falling through the cracks.

    We need to get back to the preamble and fight poverty by introducing UBI. Universality is well accepted in other fields. Someone already mentioned pensions but the NHS is another example – nobody says rich people should be charged to go to hospital because they can afford it. Instead it’s equitable to provide universal healthcare and then recoup the cost through general taxation. Exactly the same concept applies to basic subsistance: give everyone enough money to put food on their table and heat their home then recoup the cost through taxation.

  • Sue Sutherland 9th Sep '20 - 1:31pm

    Thank you very much, Anton, for your extremely clear message from your ward in Brent. We cannot ignore poverty any longer and it requires a massive investment in public services and homes to put it right. I’m not sure that UBI is the answer because the discussion in the party is ongoing. However, it would be a powerful signal to people in Alperton that we mean to turn things around if we can back it up with proof that it can work.
    Would it be possible for us to suggest certain areas for a test run? I think the evidence from other countries is mixed.

  • James Belchamber 9th Sep '20 - 1:52pm

    Thank you for this Anton. It’s becoming clear that a Basic Income is the best tool we have for sustainably eradicating poverty. It may be something that’s hard to achieve, but you’ve demonstrated well why we need it.

    Those caught up in the cost and practicalities of such a policy are missing the point – we’re not discussing the best way to fill a pothole, we’re trying to free people.

    This is the Liberalism of the People’s Budget.

  • Well if the LibDems are going after soft Tory voters then their citizens’ pension seems like an excellent idea, combined with a lowered pension age post covid and a residence test of some kind to stop mass migration of the elderly into the country (and to stop the Tory press killing it dead). At the same time it could be partly paid for by combining NI and income tax into a single tax so richer pensioners will have to pay more NI (in effect), though tiered so that those over 25k will pay more and those under less in overall NI/tax – NI no longer needed to determine the state pension.

    Throw in a new transaction tax to take up any fiscal slack for the above and once bedded in it could be expanded to get rid of business rates, council tax (with a sales tax on property stopping a boom), employer NI and even the TV licence.

    That would at least result in some populist policies aimed at freeing up a large segment of the populace and evening out retail and online whilst not upsetting the sensibilities of hardcore Liberals.

  • Daniel Walker 9th Sep '20 - 2:47pm

    @David Raw “Oh, dear. Here we go again, giving the same amount to billionaires as we give to rough sleepers.

    I’ve replied to this objection before, David.

    As I have said, I’m not sure a UBI would work, and I am sure it would be a tricky sell, even if it was a revenue-neutral scheme. But “giving money to billionaires” isn’t a solid objection. You’re better than this, Mr Raw. Argue against it on the “tricky sell” aspect, by all means. But stop saying it would be subsidising billionaires when it isn’t true.

  • Thank you, Daniel. Two questions :

    1. Have you run this through the Treasury computer, the IFS computer systems, or any other computer system ?

    2. Can you put that into a convincing dialogue for use on the doorstep when canvassing should you meet a less than trusting elector ?

  • James Belchamber 9th Sep '20 - 9:36pm

    “Have you run this through the Treasury computer”


  • Daniel Walker 10th Sep '20 - 6:49am

    @David Raw “Have you run this through the Treasury computer, the IFS computer systems, or any other computer system ?

    I haven’t, no. But Dr. Torry has.

    Your second point is basically the “tricky sell” aspect, which I have already accepted is a problem. You can argue that people would see it as giving money to billionaires, but not that it is giving money to billionaires.

  • Peter Martin 10th Sep '20 - 8:38am

    @ Daniel Walker,

    “Have you run this through the Treasury computer, the IFS computer systems, or any other computer system?……….I haven’t, no. But Dr. Torry has.”

    Do we have any evidence that the Treasury computer has ever produced reliable results?

    It’s easy enough to calculate how much extra income tax would be raised if thresholds were reduced and/or rates were raised and if everything else remained the same. But It rarely does. If someone has the option of working for a certain amount after tax or for certain length of time, or for half that amount for the same time then which is more likely? Any other sources of income including a UBI are unlikely to make the latter more likely.

    It will probably make it more unlikely. If you saw a Saturday job offer for minimum wages, would you be interested even if you had free time on Saturdays? I suspect probably not, because you’ll have other sources of income. But at one time, if say, you were struggling to get by as a student, you perhaps would have been.

    A computer can’t predict how anyone will make these choices. We can make some estimates and program these into the calculations but I haven’t seen any realistic attempts to even do that.

  • Mr Belchamber drops a clanger by disclosing the title of his autobiography but I’m reassured by Daniel’s comment.

  • Chris Randall 10th Sep '20 - 1:23pm

    Here we go again all the naysayers at it again if they had been listened to in times gone past we wouldn’t have had pensions, homes fit for hero’s, a national health service, nor a welfare state. This idea can be investigated and be developed to a proposition then we will see the cost benefit analyst. I find it strange that at the start of an idea people want to know cost rather than the affect and effect.

  • Peter Martin 10th Sep '20 - 3:28pm

    @ Chris Randall,

    Nonsense. We were simply copying what others had successfully established. Otto von Bismarck created the world’s first state pension along with an element of social health care in the late 19th century.

    But who has successfully established a UBI? Sure the Finns have dabbled, but just giving money to a small group of people and then reporting that it has improved their well being isn’t even a trial. None of the recipients had to pay the higher taxes that would be necessary for a truly universal scheme.

    Why not just wait to see what happens when someone tries it out for real? We can then learn, for free, from their experience.

  • George Kendall 11th Sep '20 - 7:45am

    @Chris Randall
    Every government who introduced pensions, affordable housing, the national health service and other element of the welfare state both looked not only at the benefits, but also how they would be paid for.

    You and others have extensively talked about the benefits. But before we can seriously consider whether these benefits are worth the cost, we need to know the cost.

    So which cost model of UBI would you go for?

    I gave four options in the following article. I also made suggestions of alternatives you could choose. Would you be willing to say which you would prefer?

    PS I can’t speak for anyone else, but I have read numerous papers and articles about the benefits of UBI, but we need to know the cost too.

  • Are we sure we’re barking up the right tree? A new tree is springing up, and we all need to understand its basic argument. It goes by the initials of MMT. That is ironic (accidentally I believe), because it does not mean Magic Money Tree, but the opposite.

    Or is it? “MMT” means Modern Monetary Theory. It looks to me very much like conventional monetary theory as taught at Bristol in the mid 1960s before the big error of neoliberalism swept the board and inflicted the hideous error of Conservative “Austerity” on the nations of the UK (among others).

    So the point we must all consider is this : is it correct? If so, and coupled with the basic idea of UBI, it offers a decent UBI to the UK, at no cost, no problem of how to pay for it. “Impossible!”? Just a few more lines, please.

    “Impossible!”, “drivel!”, I hear. Perhaps: but it would be ignorant and foolish not to take the trouble to give it an earnest inspection.

    MMT distinguishes between those economies that are ‘sovereign’, or ‘autonomous’, and those that are not. Thanks to the caution or wisdom of the UK government at the time, the UK declined to join the EU currency, the Euro, and remains stolidly, brilliantly, independent and managing very nicely with our own dear Sterling. And there is the core of the matter. We control our own currency, and can do with it what Euro users cannot: we can in monetary matters steer our own boat. That is why — to abbreviate somewhat — we can do what most other countries cannot.

    Please Google M M T, to get a better idea of the thing — before reading this any further.

    And then try to get hold of and read the opening chapter of The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and How to Build a Better Economy by Stephanie Kelton.

    She writes very readably — not too academic — for a former chief economist on the United States Senate Budget Committee and Professor of Economics and Public Policy. (Sometimes tricky, translating jobs and initials into UK equivalents of ‘Chancellor’ and ‘OBR’.)

  • Well said, Jon Ball on the 9th at 1.20 pm

  • @ Stephen Howes, 9.9.20 at 11.34 “Um, how does UBI do this given the whole point is it’s *universal* and therefore everyone’s incomes will increase by the same amount?

    There’s a difference — for virtually every one of us — between personal income and disposable income. The billionaire will find his Total Income is increased by the UB: it will then be diminished by the top-rate tax he will pay on it. So his Disposable Income will be less than it was before. His loss will finance the UBI of many. That principle will reach a long way down the scale of personal incomes.

    And I hope that the UBI will itself pay Income Tax, so that every adult will be an Income Tax Payer, and in that regard a contributor to the nation’s budget, on the same footing (though not to the same extent) as the billionaire.

  • Paul Kavanagh 11th Sep '20 - 11:11pm

    The landmark Australian Henderson Inquiry into Poverty recommended a moderate guaranteed minimum income.

    It concluded that a minimum ncome for every Australian would ensure that no-one falls between the cracks in the maze of government and community/ NGO support.

    The scheme need not be expensive in net terms as the money would be spent in the economy and reduce emergency health and housing support services.

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