Tag Archives: universal basic income

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.

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How a Universal Basic Income could make Britain more liberal

The news of a trial of universal basic income in Jarrow and East Finchley sparked a true watercooler moment. For a party like the Lib Dems, it is important to recognise what that means. It wasn’t a viral meme to like, or share, and it wasn’t a culture war issue that triggered rage, or anxiety. In conversations in staff rooms and pubs, in social media spaces from LADBible to Gransnet, people were talking about an idea. 

There are lots of reasons why. The cost of living crisis, obviously; the fear by every political party that they interrupt the Tories whilst they are making mistakes has led to a dearth of ideas; and, finally, the pandemic.  Arundhati Roy wrote in April 2020 “Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.”

The idea is simple to grasp. It is money that is always there, if your life changes, or you want to change your life. It appeals to both optimists and pessimists. Post Covid, we all know that our lives can change in a moment. UBI supports those in need, with the dignity of liberal choices. 

This national conversation echoes the support we found on the doorstep and in focus groups. 

The trial will not tell us everything we need to know about basic income, but it will tell us a lot about damage the current welfare system causes. The gap between losing your job and receiving Universal Credit is a minimum of 5 weeks, and can be up to 12 weeks. Very few people can sustain that wait without getting into debt that is almost impossible to climb out of. Sanctions cause the same problem. Being unable to feed your family, owing money everyone you know, is bound to make you feel worthless and a failure. When a bill you cannot pay lands, you will panic. The cure is not antidepressants or mindfulness. The cure is money. The thousands of people queuing at foodbanks are not there because they need help to shop. They know how to do that, they just lack the means. 

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Fantastic Fairer Society

It is fantastic that Conference passed the Fairer Society policy paper yesterday. As a member of the working group, I spent a significant amount of time working across a number of aspects of the paper, including providing a lot of the drafting for the workers rights section, alongside fantastic contributions from Laura Gordon and others.

A brief aside, while I am very disappointed that UBI was not picked from the options, it was absolutely fantastic to see Members of Parliament rally behind a commitment to end deep poverty within 10 years. It will make a real difference to a great many …

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Towards a fairer society: Universal Basic Income vs Guaranteed Basic Income

On Saturday conference will discuss an important paper about tackling the many sources of unfairness in our society.  I wrote about this for Liberal Democrat Voice in September when we were expecting to discuss them, and, given the importance of the issues, thought it worth republishing the substance of that article now.

The paper on fairness includes essential short term measures to deal with the cost of living crisis but its main focus is more strategic – covering lifelong employment support, more power to local communities and better workforce protections.

The conference motion also offers a choice – and conference will vote between two ambitious long term proposals to end poverty – a Universal Basic Income (UBI), and a Guaranteed Basic Income (GBI).

(There is also a third option which reserves judgement until both of these approaches have been fully tested over a number of years.)

The UBI proposal scraps income tax and national insurance personal allowances for everyone of working age, so that we all pay tax and national insurance on the first pound that we receive. That costs anyone currently paying tax £78 a week. The proposal also introduces a new payment to all working age adults of £78 (the “Universal Basic Income”) – so if you were previously paying tax you end up in the same place as before, but if you aren’t earning enough to pay tax, you are better off.  The current benefits system is retained but the UBI is treated as income under it – so that benefits are reduced; someone on Universal Credit would typically see a net benefit of £35 a week.  This way of delivering UBI is the output of two years of development by working groups – on which I served – and is very similar to proposals by some of the leading think tanks advocating UBI.

The GBI proposal is more directly targeted on ensuring everyone has a decent minimum standard of living. It establishes a commitment over time to get all households to a certain income level, and uses a reformed version of the existing benefits system to steadily increase the amount of this ‘guaranteed base’. An independent commission is set up to hold the government to account in terms of setting the right level over time – in much the same way as has been successfully done with the minimum wage.

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Towards a Fairer Society: Universal Basic Income vs Guaranteed Basic Income

The country faces an immediate cost of living crisis – requiring drastic action. This needs short term measures which can be funded through taxes on the additional short term profits of energy companies or through increase in debt. Measures which wouldn’t be sustainable long term but are needed to address today’s issues.

But we also need a long term strategy to make our unfair society better, and in particular, to reduce levels of poverty which pre-existed the current crisis. The conference paper and the debate on a Fairer Society address this. The paper covers policies which will make society fairer including lifelong employment support, more power to local communities and better workforce protections.

But in one specific area the paper offers a choice – and conference will vote between two ambitious long term proposals to end poverty – a Universal Basic Income (“UBI”), and a Guaranteed Basic Income (“GBI”).

(There is also a third option which reserves judgement until both of these have been fully tested over a number of years.)

The UBI proposal scraps income tax and national insurance personal allowances for everyone of working age, so that we all pay tax and national insurance on the first pound that we receive. That costs anyone currently paying tax £78 a week. The proposal also introduces a new payment to all working age adults of £78 (the ‘Universal Basic Income”) – so if you were previously paying tax you end up in the same place as before, but if you aren’t earning enough to pay tax, you are better off.  The current benefits system is retained but the UBI is treated as ‘income’ under it – so that benefits are reduced; someone on Universal Credit would typically see a net benefit of £35 a week.  This way of delivering UBI is the output of two years of development by working groups – on which I served – and is very similar to proposals by some of the leading think tanks advocating UBI.

The GBI proposal is more directly targeted on ensuring everyone has a decent minimum standard of living. It establishes a commitment over time to get all households to a certain income level, and uses a reformed version of the existing benefits system to steadily increase the amount of this ‘guaranteed base’. An independent commission is set up to hold the government to account in terms of setting the right level over time – in much the same way as has been successfully done with the minimum wage.

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The Lib Dems’ Big Idea

On 11th May Humphrey Hawksley posed the question “Do the Liberal Democrats have a captivating Big Idea?“.

Hawksley went on to mention Boris Johnson’s ‘Take Back Control’, and Donald Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’, and briefly discussed these and other examples of Big Ideas, before finishing his post thus:  “The Liberal Democrats, therefore, have a unique opportunity. Let us define our big idea and begin arguing its case now, so that by the time the next general election is announced it will be embedded in the national conversation.” (I wish he had not dropped the capital letters!)

I shall attempt, now, to take up Hawksley’s challenge.

I actually wish to reinvigorate what is now a rather tired but now Very Big Idea, with one or two Radical changes  added. (Lib Dems are rather inclined to label any Good Idea as a Radical one: that is an error!)

Here goes, then.  I propose that our ‘Big Idea’ shall be endowed with a new name altogether. Let us proclaim, when the time comes, the Big Idea of the NATIONAL INCOME DIVIDEND, a new name for an elderly idea which  begins to limp along in tired plimsolls as Universal Basic Income, full of percentages and pennies and History.

NATIONAL INCOME DIVIDEND is not a mere renaming of UBI with less depressing words. Say it now – OUT LOUD if you are alone –  and listen to it. How does each word sound by itself? How does it ring? And how do they work as a threesome? And do they run in harness rather like that old-timer, beloved headliner, the unholy trinity GDP? GDP is the very devil at the heart of Conservative capitalism.

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Federal Policy Committee seeks members for a new working group

As part of the next stage of our programme of future policy development, firmly focussed on how we can attract voters to support us, FPC has now approved the creation of a new working group to develop our proposals for creating a much fairer society.

We are therefore now looking for applications from party members to join the group, which you can do here, by the deadline of Wednesday 3 November.

The prime role of the group will be to develop policies which communicate our core values such as fairness, and also liberty, equality and community, in ways which help to get as many Liberal Democrats elected, locally and nationally.

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Federal Policy Committee: Regional powers, Universal Basic Income, natural environment and voters

We held the second in our current programme of meetings focussed on finishing off policy papers for autumn conference, on 9 June 2021. We discussed the future of power structures at regional level within England, Universal Basic Income, the natural environment and how to influence voters. Work continues to finalise motions for the autumn conference.

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Help shape our new Universal Basic Income policy

At our 2020 Autumn Federal Conference members voted to commit the party to campaign for a universal basic income and called on the Federal Policy Committee to work on the details of the implementation.

For the past three months a working group, including members from England, Scotland and Wales, has heard from external experts and campaigners on how a UBI could be implemented and paid for in a socially just and equitable manner.

In our discussions the working group has tried to discern what members may have had in mind in voting for UBI as a broad policy whilst balancing the impact of a basic income on the party’s ability to fund other policy priorities in a future general election manifesto.

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Social Liberal Forum event: What kind of UBI? Tonight 7pm

As the dust settles from last week’s successful local elections, we at the Social Liberal Forum are already looking forward to the next task: supporting (and challenging!) the Liberal Democrats to develop the best possible UBI policy, and get it adopted at this year’s Autumn Conference.

Working with Lib Dems for Basic Income, we’ve secured the opportunity to host an event with Paul Noblet, who has been chairing the party’s official policy working group. This is due to publish its recommendations and open a short consultation window imminently – and we’ve got Paul to join us and give you a chance to get under the skin of them.

To make the event even better, we’ve also got Jane Dodds, Leader of the Party in Wales and the party’s most prominent basic income champion (see her new video series here), and Christine Jardine MP, who represents the Liberal Democrats on the main cross-party group on UBI, to act as first responders.

They’ll also be joined by Max Ghenis of the US-based UBI Center, who the SLF commissioned to model a radical, “clean slate” approach to UBI in the UK to challenge and inspire the working group during its process. That report is now live and available on the SLF website here.

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Jane Dodds launches Basic Income YouTube series

Welsh Lib Dem leader Jane Dodds has launched a YouTube series in the runup to the Senedd elections to showcase the many ways in which a Basic Income could change the lives of people in Wales.

Published on the Welsh Lib Dems YouTube channel, “Basic Income Conversations with Jane Dodds” is a series of informal one-to-one conversations in which Jane asks men and women from all corners of the country about their day-to-day lives and how they think a Basic Income would make a difference to them and their communities.

In the first, she hears from Mary, a shop assistant and mother of one from Cowbridge, who reflects on the difficulties her and other working families face trying to make ends meet. “There are rural communities where they go without so much, they go without basics just to get by. And they’re all working families and that’s what I can’t get my head around. They’re all working so hard”.

Mary said the first time she heard about Basic Income was when the Welsh Lib Dems started talking about it and now she is all for it (and hopefully for the Lib Dems too, as a result!).

Jane Dodds has been a vocal supporter of Basic Income for many years and was delighted when the party adopted it as official policy at last year’s conference. “In this campaign I wanted to speak to regular, hard-working people across the country because I wanted to hear their stories and how they thought the financial security of a Basic Income could make a difference to them”, she told Lib Dems for Basic Income.

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Three Pledges on Universal Basic Income

In designing our version of Universal Basic Income (UBI), it goes without saying that we want to end up with a fair system. The current system is not fair in a lot of ways, some of them quite inexplicable. It follows that the changes in income for individuals and households will vary wildly and in ways we will have difficulty in explaining. The simplest I could manage was these three pledges. The numbers are for illustration only and are based on 2020-21 allowances.

Nobody will take home less than £4,000 a year.

Any version of UBI will produce a pledge of this kind. Many people won’t believe that there are people getting less than this now. The millions who are will know it. The chancellor’s attempts to compensate people hit by Covid have illustrated just how many people fall through the cracks between conventionally employed and unemployed.

Nobody on benefits will be worse off.

Since nobody understands the current system, the only way to fulfil this pledge is to keep the entire existing benefits system and adjust the final amount people get for the amount of UBI they are getting and the amount of extra tax they are paying. Any single person getting less than £4,000 and any couple getting less than £8,000  would be taken off benefits completely. We could simplify the system in ways that only made people better off such as upgrading Universal Credit so it always beats the legacy benefits it hasn’t quite replaced yet.

Nobody with an income less than £30,000 a year will be worse off.

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Which kind of equality do the Lib Dems value most?

Considering here just everyone living in Britain, all of whom Liberal Democrats value, what kind of equality should we seek for them? And what matters most for public policy?

Equality of treatment in health and social care, I suppose we expect and the nation demands, not just our party. So far there is no disagreement. But equality of educational opportunity for all children and young people? We haven’t got that in our country, far from it. For Liberal Democrats to campaign for it when we aren’t prepared to reduce the privileges of the private schools perhaps limits our efforts, but we will surely try to help.

Do we seek equality of income for all? Hardly. Or of wealth ownership? Scarcely. But we do want nobody to live in poverty. 

Then, how about equal freedom for everyone to have satisfying lives? Yes, certainly. Equal freedom to ensure our children have good lives? Yes, surely. However, both those last two aspects of equality depend on freedom, which to me is the greatest good.

Well, equality is a Liberal Democrat value as well as freedom. We as a party wanted everyone to have the equal provision of a basic citizens’ income when we passed the UBI motion at the last Conference. However, is it not possible, if that is the only income-related equality we seek, that the nation might in achieving it become more unequal? Because there could be large swathes of the working-age population in future subsisting on the basic income, whether out of necessity or to relish the freedom it represents. Perhaps we will stop trying to help everyone who wants a job to find one. Perhaps we will stop bothering about them not having a home of their own, rented or privately owned? Well, no, you will say, of course we want everyone to have a secure and affordable home – equality in that. So housing benefit must continue.

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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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Universal Basic Income – The case the Liberal Democrats must make

I do not intend to argue that UBI is a sensible, humane and economically transformational policy – its worth as a policy is readily apparent to any and all who have seen the devastation wrought by the pandemic. The inadequacy of miserly and bureaucratised welfare provision has now, for the first time in history, been made abundantly clear to a large swathe of the population who had previously been insulated from the humiliating, degrading, maddening process of claiming their entitlement to income support due to unavoidable job loss or illness.

What this moment represents is an opportunity to project the Liberal Democrats as a party concerned with rectifying this grossly outdated system with Universal Basic Income. The Party would demonstrate its commitment to the issues which are of paramount importance to the people of the United Kingdom: their financial security. No more sabre rattling about the EU; let us leave wading in the constitutional quagmire to the Conservatives and the SNP. It does us no favours to be the eternal champions of a defeated cause – the UK will not be re-joining the EU for decades in even the most optimistic prophecies.

UBI, however, is an immediate issue, out of which the Party could make enormous political capital, but only if we focus our energies on making it the well-honed point of a spear; the Party simply does not command enough public attention or respect to offer comment on the wide array of policies which we commit to. The two most successful political parties, the Conservative Party and the SNP, in the UK have founded their recent success upon their message cohesion – Boris’ ‘Get Brexit Done’ and the SNP’s never-ending commitment to independence. UBI is potentially superior to these platforms in nature – it is a unifying message, not based on division, and, properly communicated, hard to argue with. Show me a upper middle class individual who would publicly announce the low paid logistics, health or social care workers don’t deserve a bedrock of guaranteed economic security.

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A Basic Income is a story the Liberal Democrats can champion

This time last year my Lib Dem council colleagues and I on Hull City Council tabled and passed a motion to call for a Universal Basic Income pilot in Hull; we were the first of what is now many Liberal Democrat Councillors to do so. Little did we know a year on Basic Income would pass overwhelmingly at our Autumn party conference into policy and be championed in Parliament by a number of our MPs.

Now, as we see the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic hit our society harder than ever before it is essential for Liberal Democrats to be pioneering and spearheading the charge towards making Basic Income a reality.

This, of course, comes with challenges.

Sceptics, of which I was one, always say,  “no one’s heard of it”, “we’ll never be able to make it work” or “it’s just for policy wonks” but the pandemic gives the idea of Basic Income limelight. It gives Liberal Democrats a lightbulb moment that can commit us to a caring society where no one gets left behind.

A Basic Income is explained simply – it is a fixed, unconditional, universal payment to all in our society. It has the power to be a great leveller to the economic insecurity Coronavirus has exposed.

A Basic Income would have seen the free school’s meals meltdown from government melt away with parents having a safety net. A Basic Income would see those who have fallen through the cracks of Covid support catered to and supported. A Basic Income, if championed by Liberals, could be our generation’s answer to the National Health Service.

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What is the Tories’ problem with feeding children?

Just when you think that the Tories couldn’t sink any lower than their opposition to providing help to families with free school meals during the holidays, they have gone one further.

All over social media, there are pictures of the sorts of food packages that are being sent to children who would normally qualify for free school meals.

Daisy Cooper has written to the Education Secretary to ask him to investigate and sort this out – by giving vouchers to families rather than these “woefully inadequate” and “abysmal” packages:

It is completely unacceptable that parents have received woefully inadequate food parcels in place of free school meals.

The amount of food parents have received to feed their children is not anything like enough to provide an adequate, nutritious lunch every day. Nor do they appear to represent value for money, given what the parcels should theoretically be worth.

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The case for a partial UBI

My local party proposed an amendment to the Conference UBI motion setting a medium-term aspiration. We proposed that the UBI level together with existing working-age benefits should equal either the Social Metrics Commission or the Joseph Rowntree Foundation calculations of what a sufficient income for a person is to meet their basic requirements. It was not selected for debate. The reason given was that the Federal Conference Committee thought that it could restrict the implementation options to be considered by the Federal Policy Committee! This seems to me to be an odd reason. I think Conference should have been given the opportunity to set out what level of UBI they are aiming for even if it is only an aspiration for the medium-term which would have given lots of wriggle room to FPC.

When considering a UBI we need to be aware of the gross costs of any proposal and not be misled by the idea that a scheme is affordable because we can make huge changes to the tax and national insurance system we have today.

The Social Metrics Commission state that a single person needs £157 to meet all of their basic needs excluding housing. The gross cost of setting a UBI at this rate would be just over £353 billion. If instead the working-age benefit level was increased to the poverty line of £157 for single people and £271 for a couple, this would cost in the region of £53 billion. A difference of £300 billion.

Some people suggest that a UBI can be paid for with a Land Value Tax. When we agreed to the replacing of business rates with a Commercial Landowner Levy, our name for this land tax, we set the rates at 59% in England and 67.5% in Wales of the ‘land rental value’. We stated that we would raise £25 billion a year from this tax. The maximum rate we could tax the rental income from land is 100% and this rate would only increase government income by less than £17 billion. A small fraction of the cost of a worthwhile UBI but a useful amount in paying for increasing the working-age benefits only.

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Basic Income – from party policy to electable manifesto commitment

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Having long campaigned on LDV for Universal Basic Income, it was heartening to see UBI adopted as party policy at Conference. The challenge now is to transform Conference vote into a credible manifesto commitment, and a persuasive electable UBI policy.

Recent LDV articles have advocated UBI on various grounds, including Leyla Moran on precarity, Paul Hindley and Daniel Duggan on social justice, Anton Georgiou on inequality, and Jane Dodds on empowerment. Others including  Malcolm Berwick-Gooding have asked how UBI can be funded. Chris Northwood and George Kendall have proposed income tax, and Darren Martin a transaction micro-tax.

The web site The Case for Basic Income seeks to set out the main arguments for UBI. These are

  • social justice, addressing inequality, including gender inequality
  • welfare system efficiency and effectiveness, avoiding intrusive means-testing
  • economic necessity, acknowledging work reduction through automation, avoiding economic crisis and austerity
  • human flourishing, enabling wider choice of lifestyle
  • environmental responsibility, creating income other than by employment and more output

These are powerful, appealing, and convincing arguments, which we should fully deploy.

We also have to respond to the two main counter-arguments. Many claim that UBI presents a work disincentive. But in fact, it is current welfare benefits which erect a disincentive to work by being withdrawn £ for £ if a recipient finds work, creating an enormous marginal rate of tax, and hence the infamous ‘unemployment trap’. UBI avoids this as it is retained in full if someone starts to work.

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Speeches of #ldconf: We are liberals. We give people the tools to make their own choices

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On the official party website: Conference home

Harrow’s Adam Bernard proposed the Universal Basic Income motion last night. Here is his speech in full:


In the preamble to our constitution, the basic statement of our values, we aspire to a society where “no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity”.

In a motion about Universal Basic Income, you’d expect me to talk about poverty — and I will — but I’m going to start by talking about conformity.

I’m going to talk about conditionality and why it’s bad.

Conditionality is where we say “We’ll help you if you’re poor, but *only* if you’re the *right kind* of poor person”

It’s where we say: “Of course we’re nice. Of course this is a caring society. Of course we’ll help you. BUT first you have to prove that you’re poor enough. Prove that you’re disabled enough. Prove that you’re mentally ill enough. Prove that you’re looking for work in the right way, apply for jobs in the right way, jump through all the hoops, take what you’re given and don’t answer back.”

THAT’s conditionality. And this motion says we should get rid of it.


Over the last few decades, conditionality has increased. It increased under Thatcher and Major. It increased under New Labour. It increased — to our utter shame — under the coalition. And it’s still increasing now under the Tories.

And every increase has a nice, *rational* explanation — reducing fraud, maybe, or incentivising work.

But in fact every increase in conditionality means more stigma, more pain, more families unable to put food on the table.


William Beveridge — one of our great Liberal success stories — identified his Five Giant Evils: “Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor, and Idleness”.

He attacked Disease not by setting up “poor hospitals” only for those deepest in poverty, but by laying out the framework for the NHS, which provides care to all, rich or poor, no questions asked.

Now, in the 21st century, we are calling for the same approach to Want. A regular payment, sufficient for basic needs, to everyone in society. No stigma, no questions asked.

Yes, this will mean to rich people as well as poor people. And you should feel the same outrage at that as when rich people use the NHS, send their kids to state school, or receive a state pension.

Yes, this will be expensive, just like the NHS is expensive, like state education is expensive, like the state pension is expensive. But we know that we can’t afford *not* to have those services in a modern, fair society – and we can’t afford not to have an absolute solution to poverty either.


And what about Beveridge’s giant of Idleness? Aren’t we encouraging people to be lazy?

Our society has a myth that, say, cold-calling people to ask if they’ve been in a motor vehicle accident is paid work and *therefore* is a valid and *dignified* way to spend your life, but bringing up your child, caring for your elderly parents, or volunteering to help your community is not.

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Virtual Conference shows how Lib Dem members can change our policy

On Lib Dem Voice: Reportage | Contribute
On the official party website: Conference home

Adam Bernard, who was our candidate in Harrow East at the last General Election, and James Baillie, a leading voice in the Radical Association have spent much of the past five years trying to persuade the party of the merits of Universal Basic Income.  They campaigned and networked and worked with others, including the Social Liberal Forum to build the case for UBI. They have put huge amounts of energy into persuading people that this was the way to go.

When Coronavirus exposed the inadequacies of the social security safety net, they tried again to get this issue debated at Conference.

This time, it was not only chosen, but it had the full backing of the Parliamentary Party.

Last night, Adam proposed the motion which called on the party to campaign for a regular payment to all UK residents, funded in a socially just way and to ensure that people who need it still have access to support for housing and disability support.

He had the support of Jane Dodds, the Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader and long term advocate of UBI and Wendy Chamberlain, our DWP spokesperson. Christine Jardine had been making the case for UBI all over the media. She wrote in the Mirror yesterday that UBI could be our generation’s NHS:

A basic income will be the best, fairest and simplest way to safeguard the most vulnerable in society and care for those who need it.

At the time of the creation of the NHS, doubters opposed the idea at every turn, yet now we treasure it.

Through this crisis, our pride in the institution and in the principles which created it have been palpable.

That post-war generation’s achievement has been the salvation of so many in this one.

Providing a fixed universal income to everyone with no stigma attached has the potential to be our generation’s National Health Service.

We need the states role to be helping people out of poverty and creating the equality of opportunity that leads to a prosperous life.

We must free people from the insecurity and anxiety that this virus has created and will be with us long after we have beaten it, and instead empower them to live their lives with security, dignity and freedom.

There were some fantastic speeches in the debate on both sides. Concerns were raised about affordability and whether the payment would be sufficient to meet people’s needs. Sheffield’s Laura Gordon had technical problems and was cut off mid speech and had to come back in for her 90 seconds but made her concerns about practicality really well.

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Selling UBI: making it a good policy that wins us votes

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This is a follow-on post to the one published yesterday.

The real issue with UBI is not economic; it has been shown to provide no disincentive to work and most people are just paying in cash via taxes and getting that cash straight back. It doesn’t really affect most household finances to any significant degree. Instead the problem with UBI is political. How do we make it popular and keep it simple? That’s what my proposal is about.

The elevator pitch is this: “Voters are clear that they want tax dodgers to pay their fair share. That’s why the Liberal Democrats want to use taxes that are hard for the super rich and corporations to avoid and then, to make absolutely sure everyday voters don’t get taxed unfairly, we’re going to send you each a cheque from the proceeds. Think of it as a VAT rebate.”

Voters really are clear that they want higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations. This reframes the discussion in economically populist terms (something Liberal Democrats tend to hate doing but works) but it doesn’t change the policy at all. It remains good economics and it really does allow us to shift towards using taxes the wealthy and corporations find hard to avoid. The Scandinavian countries, for example, make heavy use of goods and services taxes for this reason.

Now I know Lib Dems are going to want to use Land Value Tax. That’s economically sound obviously, but that’s selling two hard things at once. I’d propose this:

We would give a universal basic income of £40/week to everyone in the first year of the parliament, paid for by raising VAT. That would rise by £40/week each year of the parliament until we hit £200/week in the final year. That’s £10,400 in that final year, presumably 2028 so £10,400 will be worth slightly less than now due to inflation. By the time we get to the final couple of years we can use LVT to get up to the full amount. VAT plus a UBI is progressive and the Scandinavians have shown it doesn’t slow economic growth.

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Liz Jarvis on her experience of unemployment as a single parent

An article with the headline “I lost my job in the last recession. I know how difficult it will be for single parents this time” is compulsory reading, especially when written by a journalist who is also a Lib Dem member.

Liz Jarvis gives a very personal account of the impact of the recession on her and her family:

Every time more job losses are announced during this crisis I think of all the people behind the headlines, the lives affected, and the knock-on effect for local communities. I lost my job in the last recession and all opportunities seemed to vanish overnight. As a single parent of one, my little family’s financial situation quickly became very precarious indeed. For six months I struggled to find any regular paid work at all, and I was at risk of losing the roof over our heads.

The speed at which all this escalated was terrifying. As the bills mounted up I started to dread every text message, every phone call, every letter. The credit crunch had already bitten. I sold what I could and sometimes skipped meals so my son could eat. We had been on our own since he was 18 months old and being able to provide for him was massively important to me.

Like those excluded from government support during this crisis and the “forgotten freelancers”, because I had been on a contract I wasn’t entitled to much in the way of benefits, and had never been in the position to save for a deluge of rainy days, I applied for countless jobs and temp positions without receiving any reply. Christmas saw me scouring recruitment sites.

And she goes on to consider the current crisis and its impact, especially on women:

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Which UBI should we support?

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In his recent piece HERE George Kendall asks us which Universal Basic Income proposal we should choose and how can we say if it’s affordable? How should UBI advocates respond?

What I intend to do here is set out how I believe we should assess each UBI proposal that comes our way; however, the first step is to accept the principle of UBI at conference and acknowledge it needs to be a high enough amount to live on. My conclusion will be that an “out of the box” proposal like that from Compass is actually just fine but that Lib Dems should debate several options once we’ve accepted the principle.

What makes costing UBI complicated is that normally governments take in tax revenue and spend it in return for some particular thing. For example we might decide to spend another £100 billion on the NHS and we must decide if that thing, i.e. the extra NHS services we get as a result, are worth the cost, the £100 billion. UBI isn’t like that. In UBI the government takes in, say, £500 billion and then hands out that same £500 billion. We don’t get a product or service and most of us get some amount of the cash we paid in back as… well… cash.

If I hand you £100 and you then hand me £100 I’m not £100 worse off am I? If I hand you £100 and you give me £80 I’m not £100 worse off, I’m £20 worse off. That’s very different from spending £100 and then getting a mobile phone. Is the phone worth £100? Can you get a good phone for £100? Those questions don’t make sense with UBI in the way they do with healthcare.

Instead what we are “purchasing” is a guarantee of no poverty for any UK citizen and the cost is not the whole tax bill but instead it is any loss of incentives to work and any inflation that may result. This is where evidence really matters! We are an evidence based party so lets consider the evidence.

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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. 

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What kind of Universal Basic Income do you support?

There has been a lot of debate in the party about Universal Basic Income, but it’s not always been clear what kind of UBI is being proposed. This article is to ask you to choose from four clear options.

A key issue with UBI is how it will be funded, and if it is funded, whether other priorities will have to be dropped. In the 2019 election, Jeremy Corbyn proposed raising taxes by £80bn/yr. The Liberal Democrats proposed an extra £51bn/yr spending (this included a £14bn/yr ‘remain bonus’)

The four options below involve combinations of the cheapest of the schemes recommended by Compass and the spending from the 2019 Lib Dem manifesto.

  1. £191.9bn/yr extra taxes

Scheme 1 from the Compass paper (see below), plus the £51bn/yr spending from the 2019 Lib Dem manifesto

  1. £140.9bn/yr extra taxes

Scheme 1 from the Compass paper (see below), none of the 2019 Lib Dem manifesto implemented

  1. £61bn/yr extra taxes
  • Keep the £51bn/yr extra spending from the 2019 manifesto
  • £10bn/yr to move the UK benefits system more towards a negative income tax system
  • A UBI pilot scheme (cost very small)
  1. £51bn/yr extra taxes
  • Keep the £51bn/yr extra spending from the 2019 manifesto
  • A UBI pilot scheme (cost very small)

The UBI Scheme 1 in the above options comes from proposals in the paper written by Howard Reed and Stewart Lansley and published by Compass. It is outlined in the graphic below, along with Scheme 2, which is more expensive.


As well as saying which of the above four you prefer, do also give us your ideal option.

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Jane Dodds writes: With a liberal basic income, we can invest in everyone

As conference season arrives we have a unique opportunity to pass a policy that in the 21st Century is part of the essential foundations of a more liberal future for our country – that policy is a Universal Basic Income.

Supported by both of our leadership candidates and pioneered by the late great Paddy Ashdown the time for the Liberal Democrats to take the step and be the main political party backing a Basic Income is now.

We know that Coronavirus has lifted the lid on the widespread financial insecurity that hardworking people and families have to deal within the UK. For many – from freelancers to those on zero-hours contracts – there is simply no meaningful safety net in place for times of crisis. This fundamentally undermines everything we believe in, and everything we want to achieve.

Our message is the Liberal Democrats can provide the basic financial security everyone needs in these testing times with a Basic Income. It would be a fair simple way to do what us liberal do best – empower people to dream big and reach their full potential.

As Liberal Democrats, we believe in the essential goodness of humankind – that, given the opportunity, in most circumstances, most people will choose to do good rather than harm. That’s why we believe putting power in people’s hands is the best way to a good society.

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Let’s become the Party of the Universal Basic Income

September will mark 10 years since I attended my first Liberal Democrat Conference, albeit this year’s Conference being entirely online. Having attended most Federal Conferences over that period I have witnessed numerous debates on topics ranging from public services to constitutional reform and from scrapping Trident to building more houses. 

Lately, several of the motions that have come to be debated at Conference have been very uninspiring; all motherhood and apple pie, while not wanting to scare the political horses too much. Can we truly call something a debate if 99% of conference goers are already in favour of it? When we look back at the party’s history, we see moments of great policy radicalism and an unflinching willingness to be the shapers of the big ideas of tomorrow. A liberal party, especially a liberal party with only 11 MPs and currently on single digits in the polls, needs to be bold, radical and imaginative in its policy development.

I was therefore delighted to see that a motion on the Universal Basic Income (UBI) has been chosen to be debated on the evening of Friday 25 September. The Universal Basic Income is the idea that all citizens should have an unconditional guaranteed minimum income. It would enshrine the principle that everyone has the right to own some capital. A UBI would guarantee a social minimum for the poorest members of society and would be the jewel in the crown of the party’s commitment to social justice. I welcome the motion’s commitment to guaranteeing continued additional income support mechanisms for people in receipt of housing and disability support payments. I also welcome a UBI being rolled out on the basis of the best available international evidence.

A Universal Basic Income would deliver essential social protection for those who fall outside traditional realms of employment, such as carers, students, parents with child caring responsibilities, as well as continuing to deliver welfare support for the elderly, the unemployed and people with disabilities. It would also help to raise the income of low-paid workers and those in precarious employment situations. It would help to remedy the injustices faced by the so-called ‘WASPI women’ who have lost out financially as a result of changes to the pension system. Finally, it would give additional financial support for those wanting to pursue a new vocation (such as becoming a musician) or to set up a new business, where there may be a significant period of time before a secure income can be received.

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Leadership candidates could and should set out what they mean by UBI

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Universal Basic Income (UBI) has many attractions as a policy. It is radical, an easy concept to explain and – depending how it is implemented – may be progressive.

Both our leadership candidates are backing it. Neither has been as specific as they could and should be about what they are proposing. There is enough economic analysis available for it to be perfectly feasible for them both to be more specific.

The fundamental question is whether we can afford a level of UBI which is worth having and does not create lots of losers, particularly at the bottom end of the income distribution if means tested benefits are withdrawn or modified.

On the economics, our candidates refer mainly to analysis completed by Compass, a think tank promoting UBI.  This is the most detailed recent economic work that is publicly available on a UBI for the UK.  The work has some gaps (which it acknowledges) but it does us a big service by showing the relationships between costs and benefits, and by considering properly how different income groups are affected.

It is not honest to say blandly that the Compass analysis shows that ‘UBI works’.  But it does show what the constraints are, and means our candidates could say more precisely what they are proposing.

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Funding a Universal Basic Income through Income Tax

A couple of years ago a friend gifted me a copy of Rutger Bregman’s “Utopia for Realists”. It ended up close to the top of my “to read” list and got read not long afterwards. Utopia for Realists makes a series of very clear and well reasoned arguments for a number of policy interventions that result in a better society. That one of the core premises is that a better society is an equitable one is one that should appeal to all Liberal Democrats – it’s very in keeping with the vision in the preamble of “no one shall …

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