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.

If implemented, a UBI could provide a monetary foundation for those without large incomes to pursue the future they desire. Whether it be reducing one’s working hours to spend time with family, invest in a dream business venture, or embark on further study, the extra cash from a UBI would afford every individual with the enhanced freedom to pursue previously unattainable goals. As Liberal Democrat Councillor Rhys Taylor emphasises, it could restore the liberal vision of a social security system which gives “everyone the freedom, the dignity, and the opportunity to get to where they want to be”.

Detractors may well stress the costliness of such a scheme as making it unsustainable. Whilst these concerns are understandable, recently published estimates do cost a prospective UBI at around £8bn in net terms (based on a minimum weekly amount of £51). In amounting to just 0.5% of GDP, this can hardly be deemed an untenable sum. Also, if installed on a permanent basis there would be scope for some scaling down of means-tested benefits, allowing for a reduction in current administration costs. It would however be necessary to retain some current means-tested benefits, with the UBI’s prospective weekly amount unlikely to be enough to cover the essential costs of those on the lowest incomes.

Some may also object out of concern of normalising a culture in which government handouts are an acceptable alternative to work. But I do not think this would happen. With it being an unconditional form of government assistance, a UBI creates no financial incentive to choose welfare over work. It is perhaps the only form of welfare designed principally as a supplement to an individual’s earnings as opposed to a substitute. For most recipients, the additional income would serve to enable greater saving and investment, empowering them to progress more rapidly in their personal and professional lives. It would in no way undermine the realisation of greater economic opportunity.

It is also worth highlighting the recent cases in which UBI’s (in varying forms) have been implemented. Iran, Ontario and Finland are all examples of jurisdictions which in recent years have put the theory into practice. Reporting on the Iranian experiment confirms no adverse impact on employment levels, whilst in Finland levels of economic and mental wellbeing are reported to have improved. This would appear to dispel any notion of UBI being an unproven quantity.

With its clear potential to produce a freer, fairer, more opportunity-rich society, the case is strong for UK liberals to support a UBI. If its overriding function is to remove barriers to widespread freedom and prosperity, the idea undeniably complements the liberal vision for a better society.

It is noteworthy that both candidates in the last Liberal Democrat Leadership Election expressed their support for a UBI. I am hopeful this will form a lasting blueprint for the future liberal movement.

* Sam Wade has been a member of the Liberal Democrats since 2019

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  • “With it being an unconditional form of government assistance, a UBI creates no financial incentive to choose welfare over work.”

    I always get so confused by these articles and what they are calling for.

    Is the UBI on top of existing benefits? If not then obviously it would not be anywhere near enough and lead even more people into poverty.

    Has anyone actually costed what it would cost in total to set a UBI at a level so nobody is living in poverty
    @ Per adult
    @ Per child
    @ Premium for Disability

    Then worked out the savings from doing away with all benefits, pensions tax credits etc.

    Then compare what this presently costs the UK for all benefits and Pensions and tax credits- to a Universal Basic Income
    Until someone can come up with this kind of comparison, then it is far to confusing for people to understand what is being proposed

    Obviously housing benefit would need to be separated entirely as rents vary largely across the county.

    If UBI is on top of the existing benefit system, then I can never see it happening in a month of Sundays. Especially whilst the Budget for the DWP consists of Pensions and out of work benefits. Pensions and pensioner related (sickness) benefits make up over half of the total welfare spend although this is not realised by the average joe public. This figure is then used by right wing politicians to mislead and justify calls for cuts and benefit freezes with language like “work shy” and “alarm clock Britain”

    Until you convince Government to separate entirely the Pension and pensioner related benefits entirely from the welfare budget to give a more accurate figure of what is actually being spent on working age adults and children, then you will never succeed in making a case for increased spending

  • “How the Queen lobbied for changes in the law to hide her wealth. Government memos discovered in the National Archives reveal that the Queen lobbied ministers to alter proposed legislation”. The Guardian, 10 February, 2021.

    Tell me, Matt, will the person mentioned above receive the same amount of UBI as an unemployed single mother trying to bring up three kids on her own (one of whom is disabled) made redundant last week by the collapse of Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia Group who visited my local food bank last week because she faces a five week wait (a product of 2010-15) to get Universal Credit ?

  • John Marriott 13th Feb '21 - 12:18pm

    Not AGAIN? It really IS Groundhog Day in some people’s world!

  • Indeed Sam Wade a UBI is a liberal policy. I was happy to read that you think it should be on top of existing welfare benefits – “justifying the addition of a UBI “ (8th paragraph) but then you backtrack by writing “if installed on a permanent basis there would be scope for some scaling down of means-tested benefits” (10th paragraph). Not at £51 a week there isn’t. The Social Metrics Commission define the poverty line for 2018/19 for a single person as £157 a week. Universal Credit for a single person is £94.59 a week and currently the government plan to reduce it to £74.59 from April.

  • Helen Dudden 13th Feb '21 - 4:36pm

    That’s not much to live on just over £74 per week.
    I agree totally. We have to get some fairness into society. Thing’s are far from fair at present.

  • nigel hunter 13th Feb '21 - 9:58pm

    Pensions and related benefits.Joe public should be informed about these so that adebate can kill off right wing weaponry of these to get a clear picture of thecorrect level for a UBI

  • Surely UBI should entirely replace Universal Credit, Jobseekers Allowance etc, and therefore be set at a level to allow it to do that?

    One of the advantages of UBI must be to get rid of the enormous Government bureaucracy dedicated to administering those benefits (as well as hunting for and prosecuting benefits cheats), and saving applicants from the associated form-filling and income reporting. Both the DWP and applicants make mistakes during this process, resulting in yet more bureaucracy and stress for those threatened with sanctions or going hungry waiting for funds.

    A “liberal” UBI should complete eliminate that unnecessary dependency on an inefficient and error-prone Government Dept.

  • Rif Winfield 14th Feb '21 - 11:03am

    I’m glad to see a more coherent article on the intropduction of a Universal Basic Income. But I am sorry to see that it’s taking so long to re-invent the wheel! UBI was a Liberal Party policy during the 1970s (I speak as a member of the Party’s Employment and Industrial Relations Panel during that period) and we hammered out all these arguments at that time, including the economic costings that UBI would involve. Clearly the costings need to be re-calculated to meet the finances of the 2020s, but the princiuples are unaltered.

    The statement “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.” sums the situation up completely. The questions are – what should the size of the safety net be; and how would the affects on government finances be met?

    At the very least, the level of UBI (PER ADULT) must be above the current levels of UIniversal Credit (the discussion about the £20 ‘temporary’ uplift show how inadequate that is), currently £94.59 per week for someone over 25. UBI should replace UC, ESA and other means-tested benefits; it should not replace benefits for circumstances which require payments related to the nature of such circumstances – child benefits, housing benefits and disability benefits. Most important, it should be paid to all, even those in employment, self-employment and those with the highest incomes – to be balanced by a much higher level of taxation on “earned incomes”.

  • Peter Martin 14th Feb '21 - 12:24pm

    There’s a lot of articles on LDV on the UBI. But I don’t remember anything on the alternative of a Job Guarantee. Rogue employers wouldn’t like it because it would set a bench mark they would have to match. I can’t see any other reason why you wouldn’t want to at least give it some consideration.

  • Rif Winfield’s comments are helpful and I wonder if a copy of the report by the then Liberal Party’s Employment and Industrial Relations Panel in the 1970’s is still available ? A recalibrated version to 2021 levels would be interesting.

    Maybe Rif can also remind us about the attitude of the Thorpe/Steel leadership to the report at that time. My guess is they would be wary of it and I can’t recall anything about it from the time, or in 1983 when I was a PPC.

    I would suggest a point by point rebuttal document be prepared for the predictable attacks that will be made on it….. I’m certain the tabloids and certain sections of the media will mock it and regard it as a gift that keeps on giving showing how incompetent and full of day dreams Liberal Democrats are in the 2020’s.

    Last question. How committed is Sir Edward Davey to UBI or is he still energetically smelling the coffee ? I gave him a personal copy of the Alston Report back in September, 2019, but have yet to see evidence he has read it.

    Maybe I’ve missed something but I know the Party’s website claims, “Ed is a trained economist, and wrote the first Lib Dem policy on a universal basic income when he was Paddy Ashdown’s Economics Adviser” – but this doesn’t quite stack up with Rif’s mention from the 1970’s.

  • You could always write one Peter!

  • Assuming a UBI does away with all benefits, pensions and tax credits and there are

    51 Million adults @ £140 a week = £371.28 Billion
    15 Million under 19 @ £50 a week = £39 Billion
    14 Million Disability Premium @ £120 a week = £87.36 Billion

    Housing Benefit @ £22 Billion

    Total yearly Cost £519.64 Billion

    Sounds pretty eye watering Especially when the current welfare Bill is I believe £222 Billion????

    But then if this was a taxable benefit and some of this was clawed back in taxes and of course there are the savings in bureaucracy and this was handled through HMRC, doing away with the DWP altogether ( though you would need a medical panel of sorts to decide on disability eligibility)

    How much would this Net cost come down too?

    Surely someone must have done this kind of research and calculations? having people with more disposable income in their pockets each week to do as they wish, after all gets spent back into the economy and is recouped in taxes be it VAT, corporation taxes etc, it all finds it was back to the exchequer eventually, it would also encourage more people to take risks and setting up their own business.

    I really would like to see some proper research and figures attached to these articles On Net Costs and Gains
    And some real clarifications on what UBI or Citizens Income really is and would look like

    I see so many different articles on the subject and without being rude, some of them are quite woolly and seem hesitant to talk about real costs and substance, especially when some talk of a lower rate of UBI on top of existing benefits, some talk of higher UBI and do away with existing benefits, its hard to keep up with what is being proposed.

  • nvelope2003 14th Feb '21 - 3:55pm

    It is already difficult to get staff in many areas. If people did not have to work to get an income it would be impossible. We shall have to see what effects COVID will have on the jobs market but the many shops which closed before the recent planned closures did not seem to have caused unemployment. There are many vacancies in care homes and without the immigrants some of these would have to close and may have to if EU workers no longer wish to come here. It is very difficult to get people to do plumbing, roofing or building, although many problems are caused by the poor education system which encourages people to think it is beneath them to work with their hands unless they are using a computer. If the state had to provide jobs when private firms did not need any more staff what would the holders of these jobs do all day ? Even liberal Finland abandoned a form of UBI as it did not give the expected benefits. I rather suspect that the reason why it is claimed to be such a happy country is the excessive consumption of alcohol by many of its people.

  • @nvelope2003

    But there can be no denying that Covid has changed everything and will continue to do so, whether we get on top of this virus or not.

    Many major companies have said that they will never return to “normal” when it comes to returning people to the office. They have realised that having staff remote working from home saves them $$$ and was more effective than they ever realised it could be.
    The have said that the decreased costs this will have for their businesses in rents and utilities is massive and after all companies are all about the profits.

    If more and more companies decide not to return to the office, that is going to be reduced foot fall for many businesses that rely on it, coffee shops, high street etc.

    Automation in the future was already a big fear on jobs and what this would do, and whilst the technology is already there in many sectors, it has been delayed, covid has more than likely changed all that and brought automation forward 10-15 years for many businesses.

    We are going to have to have some real hard thinking ahead of us on how we address these issues and I dont think we can sit back any longer and delay and wait for it to happen. Covid has changed all that already for us , Businesses have experienced first hand what a new Virus can do to the economy in the blink of an eye, it is no longer a hypothetical myth.
    Businesses evolve and adapt and if they see they can increase profits and reduce costs in the process, they’re not going to ignore that

  • @nvelope2003 – “I rather suspect that the reason why it is claimed to be such a happy country is the excessive consumption of alcohol by many of its people”.

    Alcohol consumption by the Finns has dropped significantly in recent years, and is below the UK average. I’m not sure British alcohol consumption is making us happier, or is a viable substitute for UBI.

  • @Matt

    There is inevitably a net cost if you want to make people at the bottom end of the income scale better off, but you could recover a lot through the tax system from the better off.

    The net cost depends on:

    a) At what income level you stop making people better off with UBI.
    b) Whether you are prepared to make the rich worse off to help pay for it.

    I did work out some figures which I posted to a previous UBI thread.

  • @Nick

    Just by doing a crude calculation based on the UBI i stated at £140 a week for a single adult. Should that adult also be working full time @ Minimum Wage they would being paying an additional £30 a week in Income Tax, so already some is making its way back to the treasury before the person has walked in their front door. By time you add things like VAT on their spending etc, it’s not long before it comes back the treasuries way either directly or indirectly through taxes on spending.

    I wish someone with much better brains than I lol, would do a proper cost analysis on what this would cost, how much it would benefit / Cost ALL people across the income scales and what impact this could have on the economy / society as a whole i.e increased entrepreneurs, those that decide to increase their training / skills etc

    We need to see some proper analysis and if arguments are going to be made for a UBI it has to be on the merits of what it could do for the economy as a whole, rather than on lifting people out of poverty. Because lets face it, your never going to win the arguments with those on the far right, if you make UBI about poverty

  • Peter Martin 14th Feb '21 - 6:14pm

    @ Nick Baird,

    “You could always write one Peter!”

    Fair point. But I might just say that I have had a couple of submissions rejected recently, without even any acknowledgement. The last one was in August last year. This was an article about the drawbacks of the the Nordic welfare systems, and from a left perspective.

    So I will write an article, as you suggest, but only if I’m asked to!

  • Rif Winfield 14th Feb '21 - 6:34pm

    While main means-tested benefits (like Universal Credit, Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Statutory Sick Pay, Tax credits and Pension Credit) would be replaced by UBI, those benefits required for meet specific needs of sections of the population (notably Child Benefit, Disability Benefits and Housing Benefit) would be retained as they exist to assist people with particular living expenses.

    As regards the point that the Party’s website claims, “Ed is a trained economist, and wrote the first Lib Dem policy on a universal basic income when he was Paddy Ashdown’s Economics Adviser”, I have no doubt this is true – my former email referred to the policy of the Liberal Party in the 1970s, not the Lib Dems. Sadly the Lib Dems have been far more conservative in their approach to personal incomes, and Ed has been disappointing in failing to adopt radical policies (as has been his capitulation on the question of re-joining Europe as an eventual aim). Layla Moran’s views have been much more progressive.

    What should be the level of UBI, and how should it be funded? Certainly it must be higher than the means-tested benefits I have enumerated above, even if one takes account of the risible “temporary” uplift of £20 per week on UC. The level of the new state pension (£175.20 per week) should be considered, and perhaps even the level of the individual tax allowance (£12,500 per annum). Yes, it will mean a substantial increase in the tax on other “earned” income from whatever source, but as Liberals this is something we should welcome if it reduces some of the gross inequalities in income.

  • @Rif

    I know you have a comment somewhere in the Ether as I can see it on the main page “Recent comments” but cannot see it on the thread itself. This Keep happening a lot lately, I noticed a comment from David there several hours ago, but it never shows up in the thread.

    Don’t know what is happening, if it will ever appear lol, it is making it difficult to follow and respond to conversations and I just want to put it out there that I am not being rude if I do not respond to someone, the lag is making it difficult to keep up

  • If I was on the doorstep I would expect to be asked these 4 questions (as a minimum) from someone who was already in employment and on an average wage (say £30,000 per year)

    How much will I get?
    How is it going to be paid for?
    How much tax will I personally have to pay to fund it?
    What other items of government spending will be sacrificed to pay for it?

  • Also to show that we are not the enemy of ambition I would expect to be asked by someone who has done OK for themselves but is not wealthy (say £50,0000 per year income)

    How much will I get?
    How is it going to be paid for?
    How much tax will I personally have to pay to fund it?
    What other items of government spending will be sacrificed to pay for it?

  • Rif Winfield is right that all the arguments for a basic income, including the economic costings that UBI would involve, have long been hammered out. They even pre-date Rif’s Employment and Industrial Relations Panel with the work of Lady Juliet Rhys Williams who proposed the “New Social Contract” as an alternative to the Beveridge Report in the immediate post-war period.
    A guaranteed basic income has become the top policy priority for Canadian Liberal MPs
    Detailed costings and the distributional impact have been undertaken using micro-simulation analysis. It seems likely that the introduction of this policy will be a phased approach beginning with a revenue neutral approach that gradually steps-up as technology and innovation provide for increasing levels of economic output. Malcolm Terry’s paper Malcolm Terry is a case in point concluding:
    “it would be possible to implement a Citizen’s Basic Income scheme, with Citizen’s Basic Income levels of useful amounts, that would be revenue neutral (that is, it could be funded from within the current income tax and benefits system). The increase in Income Tax rates required would be feasible; and the scheme could largely avoid significant disposable income losses for low income households, and it could also avoid unsustainable losses for any household. Both poverty and inequality could be substantially reduced; large numbers of households could be removed from means-testing; and means-tested benefit claim values, and the total cost of means-tested benefits, could be reduced considerably. The scheme could provide additional employment market and business-creating incentives for the large number of households no longer on means-tested benefits (Collado, 2018): an important factor in relation to the rebuilding of the economy following the coronavirus outbreak.
    Because the only changes required in order to implement this illustrative Citizen’s Basic Income scheme would be
    • payment of the Citizen’s Basic Incomes for every individual above the age of 16
    (apart from those between 16 and 19 still in full-time education), calculated purely in
    relation to the age of each individual,
    • increases in the rates of Child Benefit,
    • changes to Income Tax and National Insurance Contribution rates and thresholds, and
    • easy to achieve recalculations in existing means-tested benefits claims, the entire scheme could be implemented very quickly, whether or not it had been preceded by a Recovery Basic Income scheme.

  • Peter Martin 15th Feb '21 - 1:33pm

    Lib Dems might just want to get out and talk to their potential voters a bit more. Sure, they might be happy to hold out their hands if there is free money on offer. Who wouldn’t be?

    But, generally speaking what people want, for the younger generations, is the prospect of a decent job with guaranteed hours, at a decent rate of pay and the kinds of pension and holiday entitlements that many of us, of previous generations, have taken for granted.

    They might want there to be a generous safety net for those who genuinely can’t work but they don’t want all the emphasis to be on that. But what do we get on LDV? Little mention of decent well paid jobs, no mention (except what I can get into the comments) about guaranteed jobs, but lots of discussion about Universal Basic Income and welfare reform.

  • Joseph Bourke 15th Feb '21 - 2:07pm

    UBI is Libdem policy supported by members and the public in general. A Independent Yougov Poll found in 2016 found that two thirds of the British public support a universal basic income. A repeat of the Poll last year found that a majority of the public support paying people a universal basic income to ensure their financial security, introducing a jobs guarantee to keep employment stable, and bringing in rent controls to limit housing costs.
    “51 per cent of the public support a universal basic income, “where the government makes sure everyone has an income, without a means test or requirement to work”. Just 24 per cent are unsupportive of the idea, with 9 per cent saying they do not know how they feel.”
    “The idea a basic income has been backed by dozens of MPs from across the political spectrum as a solution to workers falling through the cracks of the current government support scheme – including the self-employed”

  • @ Joe Bourke Interesting to hear your comments on Lady Juliet Rhys-Williams, Joe.

    For those wishing to know more about the lady, Dr Peter Sloman of Churchill College, Cambridge wrote some very interesting notes about her. Google below :

    Beveridge’s rival: Juliet Rhys-Williams and the … – › download › pdf
    PDF by P Sloman · ‎Cited by 22 · ‎Related articles.

    I gather she was politically mobile, having been a Liberal National, a Liberal and finally, (after falling out with Clement Davies, Elliott Dodds, Philip Fothergill; et al, Conservative (and a Monday Clubber ?).

  • I should have added that Lady Rhys Williams papers are deposited at the LSE in London for anybody who wants to do some serious research.

    WILLIAMS, Juliet Evangeline Rhys, 1898-1964, Baroness Rhys Williams, public servant
    Archive Collection, For more information email the repository. Cite this description Bookmark:

  • Peter Martin 15th Feb '21 - 9:19pm

    @ Joe

    I’d question that a majority of voters would be able to accurately describe what a UBI actually was, never mind express support for the concept.

    A common misconception is that it is about a guaranteed minimum wage. A level of income that no-one should be paid lower than.

    And yes there would be a natural majority for that.

  • Peter Martin 15th Feb '21 - 9:44pm

    PS The above comment was based entirely on my own experiences of talking to people. So I thought I would Google the topic with ” Do voters know what a UBI is”

    And who should pop up but your own Mark Pack who tells me I am very much understating my case,

    “Less than one in ten say they know what Universal Basic Income (UBI) is”

    And as Mark says, just because they say they know the answer to something it doesn’t mean they actually do.

  • UBI is going too become necessary because jobs are going to vanish over the next few years. The difference between this post industrial revolution and previous ones is that the new technologies will replace both work of the hand and that of the brain at the same time. To reduce the awful feelings of depression and uselessness, this should be brought in sooner rather than too later to get people used to the idea.

    Previously, every change in practices and living has produced offshoot employment, but on this occasion the technology will take a lot of that too. Lawyers, accountants, middle managers and supervisors, Surgeons, GP’s, Co pilots, train drivers , bankers, fruit pickers, carers and warehouse workers. All those jobs are threatened with replacement by various technology that does not require holidays, lunch breaks, rest breaks, sleep, or sick pay. Just a maintenance contract.

    If we get on the right side of the changes, it can be a benefit for mankind., People will have a greater degree of choice as to what they do. They will be able to do multiple tasks. To pursue the arts & creativity, charity work, hobbies, environmental work. People could set up small businesses or work part time. Many would be less chained to the lowest common denominator of the gig economy, which in any case should be regulated to give people a minimum. standard fair deal remuneration and terms. At present much of the gig economy is exploitative and designed to be misleading. We should not accept such third world levels of employment and unbelievable thieving terms by large firms, such as some of the newer couriers

  • John Littler 15th Feb '21 - 10:10pm

    Mass unemployment will be with us sooner than from the new technology and structural changes, by means of the Brexit catastrophe dumped on us with 5 hours notice of the terrible terms on public holiday, on top of the mismanagement of Covid 19.

    Why the opposition is not hitting home is mystery to me. Johnson must think that this opposition is his best weapon.

  • Peter Martin 15th Feb '21 - 10:23pm

    @ John,

    I’m sorry but this is just more of “the robots are going to take our jobs” nonsense that many of us have been hearing about for at least the last 30 years. I first remember it from the hoo-ha that arose when PCs first started to make their appearances in offices. How were we going to employ all those typists and comptometer (you might need to look up what that means) operators that would no longer be needed?

    There was a similar level of concern about the displacement of bank tellers by cash machines.

    Since then the percentage of active workers in the population has grown to an all time record.

    It’s all a neo-liberal con! A currency issuing government can always guarantee full employment. IF I’m ever proved wrong about that the sensible solution is to have a shorter working week and longer holidays for all rather than accept the pittance that will inevitably be all that is paid out as a UBI.

  • Peter Watson 16th Feb '21 - 12:31am

    @Peter Martin “Less than one in ten say they know what Universal Basic Income (UBI) is”
    Looking at the YouGov report (, I’m not sure I agree with Mark Pack’s interpretation of the results. There is a difference between not knowing what “UBI” is and not knowing what “Universal Basic Income” is, and the YouGov question looks like it might well have been using the acronym.
    Though perhaps the challenge for its proponents here is that Lib Dem voters seem less familiar with the term than Labour voters, but curiously, compared to other voters, Lib Dems seem to be particularly well-informed about “sunlit uplands” (and “nett zero”).

  • Peter Martin 16th Feb '21 - 1:43am

    @ Peter Watson,

    So you’re saying that 51% support a UBI even though nearly all don’t know that UBI stands for Universal Basic Income. So you’ll go with that?

    It might be amusing to make a list of what some voters might think these political jargon terms actually do mean.

    STV ……. Sexually Transmitted Virus
    AV …… Alternating Voltage
    UBI ….. Something to do with Rhodesian Independence ?
    Net Zero ……… A soft drink (Credit to Mark Pack for this one)
    Sunlit Uplands…….. A mountain range in California ?
    PR ……. Public Relations, Political Reaction ?
    JG…….. The Just Giving website ?
    MMT…. Magic Money Tree. What else could it be 🙂

  • William Francis 17th Feb '21 - 2:23pm

    @Joseph Bourke @Peter Martin

    What I find bizarre is how a job guarantee has replaced Keynesian demand management as the popular means to promote full employment.

    For one few have actually stated what the said guaranteed job would entail. It would have to be simple enough to be done by everyone, be socially useful enough to be politically sustainable, but not too socially useful that a good job market would seriously endanger wider British society.

    Boosting aggregate demand would reduce unemployment, by giving people jobs in areas where there is a demand for the goods and services they’d produce, and they’d be a greater choice in occupations for the unemployed (rather than a one size fits all job). Furthermore, a UBI can be a useful tool in this.

  • I’d be happy with a UBI provided that it was not used as a tool to control the population (eg if you are convicted of a crime or act in a certain way your UBI should not be interfered with)
    Also I would want to know how it is paid for and also that it did not impact on other spending (such as defence)

  • Joseph Bourke 17th Feb '21 - 11:04pm

    William Francis,

    this is the long answer to your question

    The shorter answer is “that the JG does not rely on the government spending at market prices and then exploiting multipliers to achieve full employment which characterizes traditional Keynesian aggregate demand management. The JG program differs in that it “would be targeted directly to households. It is a genuine bottom-up approach to economic recovery. It is a program that stabilizes the incomes and purchasing power of individuals at the bottom of the income distribution that trickles up and stabilizes the rest of economic activity. Strong and stable demand means strong and stable profit expectations. A program that stabilizes employment and purchasing power is a program that stabilizes cash flows and earnings. Stable incomes through employment also mean stable repayments of debts and greater overall balance sheet stability”

    The job guarantee and UBI can and should work together

    The UBI provides a base subsistence income supplemented by housing and disability benefits, while the job guarantee provides both a means of earning additional income and a transition back into the private sector employment market as economic conditions improve.

  • Peter Davies 18th Feb '21 - 7:05am

    @Slamdac I would have to ask your two sample voters: “Do you have a partner and if so, how much do they earn?”. Comparisons are almost always done on the basis of household income adjusted for the number of people in the household.

    On that basis, if either of your electors was single or better yet had a partner on the same income, they would be considered as well above the mean and even further above the median. The one on £30,000 might be fractionally better or worse off depending on the scheme we chose. My guess would be worse off by less than £100 per year. The one on £50,000 would probably be worse off by under £1000.

    On the other hand, if either had an unemployed partner, they would both be considerably better off. £30,000 is a below average income for a two person household and this is one of the main groups the policy is aimed at. A single earner two person household on £50000 is well off but still oddly badly treated by the current system. There are surprisingly few households in this category.

    The moral of this story is that we should spend more time knocking on the doors of two person single earner families, families on below average earnings, gig workers, people who are not earning but not available for work (students) and the struggling self employed. They will like our answers more than many of our current targets.

  • I earn about £46,000 per year, have a child (for whom I pay maintenance for) and I am single. I am reasonably well but I am not rich by any means. I am a homeowner (with a mortgage!)
    I have a full time job.

    Why should I be £1,000 per year worse off? I could use than £1,000 on my son.

    Not convinced it will be a massive vote winner. I certainly won’t support it if I am £1,000 per year worse off.

    It would become a tax on ambition and hard work.

  • Nonconformistradical 18th Feb '21 - 3:50pm

    “I earn about £46,000 per year”
    Roughly around 1.5 times the median full-time income. Lucky you…

  • @Nonconformistradical

    “Lucky you!” For which I have had to go to uni for 4 years (paying tuition fees, student loans and rent), work many many evenings, work many many weekends. Only for someone to sneer at me when I question whether I should be giving £1,000 of my hard earned income to people (some but not all) haven’t put the same amount of effort to me.

    My income percentile is about 75% (I earn more than 75% and less than 25%) I consider myself pretty middle of the road. I don’t (and I imagine voters won’t) take kindly to being sneered at when questioning a policy than would result in a loss of £1,000 from me (and by extension my son).

    Ultimately people like me have to pay the money to make UBI work.

  • Peter Davies 18th Feb '21 - 4:46pm

    Which leaves us only the 60 odd percent who will gain and those (like most of our members) who accept they can afford to pay a little for a fairer society. Hardly the makings of an electoral disaster by the standards of the last two elections.

  • Peter Davies 19th Feb '21 - 7:52am

    £46,000 incidentally puts you in the top 20% of taxpayers. The ONS excludes the millions of poorer people below the income tax threshold from its figures which is why it’s so difficult to calculate the cost of introducing UBI.

  • Nonconformistradical 19th Feb '21 - 10:25am

    Having gone to university during the late 1960s – when I started working I was paying tax at a very much higher rate than would be the case now. Perhaps in lieu of tuition fees….

  • Peter Watson 19th Feb '21 - 3:04pm

    @Peter Davies “Which leaves us only the 60 odd percent who will gain and those (like most of our members) who accept they can afford to pay a little for a fairer society.”
    I suspect that the 40% who “can afford to pay a little for a fairer society” are actually present as a significantly higher proportion in Lib Dem seats and targets.
    I would expect this to affect the way that Lib Dem policies are presented. In that context, “a greener, fairer, more caring Britain” sounds like a much easier sell than a larger tax bill to pay for UBI and to defeat poverty so I will be interested in seeing how the party approaches that.

  • I am not sure the UBI is compatible with the aim of Rejoin. I would suspect that most pro Europeans earn more than the median UK income. UBI will punish them.

    I am a floating voter who has interest in Lib Dem Policies (hence me being on this site), I have voted Lib Dem before, but there is no way on earth that I would be voting for a £1,000 tax hike.

  • David Murray 19th Feb '21 - 6:25pm

    Various tax adjustments could remove some of the anomalies that benefit the better off. Class 1 NI employee contributions are 12% from £9,500 to £50,000 and 2% above that. To be fair, it needs to be 12% throughout the salary range. The starting threshold could be raised at the same time to that of Income Tax, benefiting the worst off. With UBI, personal allowances could be reduced by the same amount, so there would not be a double tax-free benefit. The administrative simplicity of UBI would save the government £billions, and staff could be more productively employed in manufacturing!

  • Peter Davies 19th Feb '21 - 8:46pm

    The anomaly is surely that standard rate taxpayers pay 12% less on investment income than on earned income. Raising tax on investment income (including capital gains) to the same level as earned income is surely the starting point of a fair tax system.

  • Rif Winfield 20th Feb '21 - 9:56am

    Dear slamdac,
    The essence of Liberal policy is freedom, but it is freedom for ALL that we seek, and as has been often said, there is no freedom for people without the economic means to maintain a basic standard of living. It would be cruel to say that “my heart bleeds for people who would be forced to live on £45,000 a year rather than £46,000”, but sadly it is selfish to say that people who have to survive on a much lower level of income (my pension amounts to under £10,000 a year), often through no fault of their own and having worked just as hard as you have over their working life, should need to spend much of their time scrabbling around to make ends meet. I’m not complaining about my low income (due to the need to care for my disabled wife for many years), but as someone who has to devote much (unpaid) time to helping thousands of people with disabilities that prevent them from high earning power, I see the consequences – in nutritional, psychological and housing deficiencies – of poverty. I know that the Labour Party (the Party of Envy) will never meet the needs of disadvantaged people, and thus it is the task of Liberals to try and raise the aspirations and abilities of all people.

  • Joseph Bourke 20th Feb '21 - 10:30am

    Well spoken Rif. Slamdac writes “there is no way on earth that I would be voting for a £1,000 tax hike.” However, at some point in the not too distant future there will be big tax increases whether direct or via inflation and their won’t be a vote on it.
    Almost everyone makes use of the benefit system during their lifetimes whether it is support during periods of sickness or unemployment, child allowances, pensions, the current Covid wage and income support measures or simply childhood education, NHS and the myriad of other public services.
    Universal basic income coupled with job guarantees takes out much of the means testing and state control associated with the current welfare system.

  • A person who earns £46,000 doesn’t take home £46,000. I pay over £11,000 a year in tax already. My take home is about £35,000

    I don’t see the point of engaging too much longer as it appears that the Lib Dems have morphed into a party that thinks money grows on trees and if you work hard you will be punished for it. Not the party I voted for a number of elections for. (I also wasn’t impressed by the (now deleted tweet) showing Layla Moran talking about freedom of speech, if the Lib Dems aren’t for freedom of speech then what is the point of them?)

  • Joseph Bourke 20th Feb '21 - 11:53am


    you actually pay more in tax than what you see. £11k is income tax and employees NI on a £46k salary. Your employer pays employer NI of £5k on £46 salary. That is part of the cost of employing you that you don’t see in your net pay. There is also of course VAT on consumption spending and import duties, corporation tax (included in prices of products and services), capital gains tax, inheritance tax, stamp duty, excise duties on alcohol, tobacco and petrol, Council tax, TV license fees, road tax, Insurance premium tax, landfill tax etc. Much of the tax system could be rationalised, with the introduction of a Land Value Tax, to make it more efficient and equitable for everybody.
    The government (regardless of party) normally spends around 40% of national output and that mostly comes from taxation coupled with significantly higher borrowing during national emergencies such as with this current health and economic crisis.

  • nvelope2003 20th Feb '21 - 4:24pm

    Slamdac: 94 % of the voters seem to be asking what is the point of the Liberal Democrats. If ever they were needed it is now but the present leaders seem only to be interested in being big fish in a small pond. Discussion of anything practical gets either miniscule response or derision while over 100 posts will appear on things of no interest whatsoever to most or indeed almost any voters. What has gone wrong with the party ?

  • Peter Martin 20th Feb '21 - 6:44pm

    @ William Francis,

    ” What I find bizarre is how a job guarantee has replaced Keynesian demand management as the popular means to promote full employment.”

    EXcept it hasn’t. It’s more an acceptance on the part of the MMT theorists that full employment cannot be achieved by demand management techniques alone. Even to get very close to it risks dangerously overheating the economy.

    So, the question arises as to what to do with the 3% or so who end up being unemployed. Most economists would consider that to be good enough to term full employment. It isn’t. Leaving them to be permanently unemployed has serious downside implications. This can lead to a drift into crime, drug abuse, homelessness etc. They can end up being unemplyable. The conventional view is that the unemployed should be a reserve army of labour but, clearly, if employers don’t want to employ them they aren’t even fulfilling that role.

    So a large part of any JG scheme will involve educational programs and building of new skills as well as giving unemployed workers a chance to show they are capable of holding down a normal job.

  • Nonconformistradical 20th Feb '21 - 8:16pm

    “My take home is about £35,000”
    Still way above the median full-time income – and before deductions from the latter…

  • John Littler 20th Feb '21 - 8:21pm

    Peter Martin, your previous IT introductions were different to what is happening now progressively. Computers were more like adding an office gadget and did nothing for manual work

    The new IT and robots will do the jobs rather than just enable the jobs to be switched out of card systems onto a screen instead. It is totally different.

    Warehouses are already becoming automated, such as Thomann in Germany, that used to employ 100 people

    Surgery will be carried out by robots capable of finer work than humans

    Self driving vehicles are not far off being completed with trials on UK roads agreed now

    Robot deliveries from shops are being carried out now in Milton Keynes

    Trains are already starting to their lose on board drivers, overseas and in Docklands DLR

    Pro Commercial Photography is being done by automated devices

    Farming robots are being developed

    UBI will be needed rather than following the fiction that there will be enough jobs out there for everyone, or that the state should waste it’s resources humiliating people, spying on their relationships over benefits, making them fill in 100’s of pointless job application forms or attend worthless courses for jobs that will not be there.

    What is coming is a revolution in the way we think about work and how education responds to it will be another vital issue. This issue is one on which the left and centre could get ahead of the Tories, who will wish to leave it to the markets and big business

  • John Littler 20th Feb '21 - 8:34pm

    A general Industrial robot capable of being easily programmed to do a variety of manual tasks can be had on a contact that relates to an hourly rate starting at around £7 ph., including maintenance, which is effectively robot sick pay.

    £7 ph is less than minimum wage and it does not require holidays, meal breaks, maternity/paternity breaks, rest breaks, overtime pay, union negotiations, team building, meetings, a canteen or courses. Nor does it require 100’s of thousands of overseas workings entering the country with all the consequences we have been impacted with since that stupid vote. Migration has been a good thing for the UK, but less will be needed

  • “the fiction that there will be enough jobs out there for everyone”

    Actually automation tends to lead to more jobs rather than fewer – and we also decrease the average hours worked – just as we have got rid of Saturday morning working – we will go down to 4 or 4.5 day working by 2060.

    “how education responds to it will be another vital issue”

    Absolutely – our competitors such as South Korea are sending 75% to university – we need to do the same now – and if not now then tomorrow!

  • @ nvelope2003 It doesn’t really matter what I think. But for what it is worth. I started out voting Lib Dem in 2001 and 2005 I then went to the Conservatives in 2010 and have stayed with them since then. I would classify myself as on the left of the Conservative party. To me the Liberal Democrats should be about the individual and making sure that the state does not have too much power. They should occupy the vast political space in the Centre ground between the Conservatives and Labour. Being more fiscally and socially conservative than Labour but progressive on these issues than the Conservatives. I would suggest that these people would also be pro EU.

    What seems to have happened (at least to me) is that the Liberal Democrats have moved so far to the left that they are even further to the left than the Labour party on many issues (including the politics of envy). Indulging in Identity Politics and coming across a bit Student Politics (by the way what was Layla going on about when talking about Freedom of Speech on Question Time). Trouble is that the Lib Dems are fishing in a very crowded pond. They are competing for votes with the Greens and the Labour Party,

    If the voters want socialism and identity politics they will vote Labour, if the voters want Green politics then they will vote Green. You are chasing a very small area of the electorate who already have better offers. You have abandoned your natural electorate It shows in your dismal electorate results

    If it was up to me the party should be
    1. Pro EU
    2. Pro Business
    3. Pro Workers Rights
    4. To the Left of the Conservative
    5. To the Right of Labour
    6. Dismissive of Divisive Identity Politics (which just turns people off, for example who thinks going on about identity politics is going to win any votes in middle England in those who are just about managing, they have so much more to worry about, and calling anybody who doesn’t subscribe to the identity politics a Racist, Homophobe, Sexist, Bigot Transphobe etc is just pushing more people to the Tories). The Mantra should be equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome.

    Those are my views for what it is worth, I feel there is a massive electorate out their just waiting for the taking and the Lib Dems are just ignoring them trying to out Green the Greens and out Labour Labour

  • Peter Martin 21st Feb '21 - 2:21am

    @ John Littler

    There always will be the “this time it is different” argument. It’s not being used for the first time. The government of a currency issuing country can always ensure we have a condition of close to full employment.

    There needs to be a Job Guaratee to make it actual full employment. Ask any local councillor about jobs that need doing in their area. There will be plenty. We ate highly unlikely to run out of things to do.

    If that does ever happen we should respond by cutting working hours. It’s better to cut them by 10% rather than have 10% unemployment. The pittance of a UBI won’t be anywhere near enough to stem popular discontent.

  • John Littler 21st Feb '21 - 12:42pm

    Peter, I gave an example of a firm that used to employ 100 people and now a small fraction of that due to automated warehouse.

    How many drivers will be employed once vehicles are self driving as an option. Very few as the technology takes hold and that ius huge employment. Same for many aspects of farming. Haircuts, surgery, GP consultations, legal services etc.

    You don’t get it do you. The future is not always a bigger dose of the present and past. Firms that hold out for the old ways will be out competed.

    There was a book written in the 1970’s by the late Alvin Toffler, “The Third Wave”. He got it and the changes here and arriving in society as a result that tie together and make sense, but will happen, whether encouraged or not. He forecasted home working for one.

  • Peter Martin 21st Feb '21 - 6:15pm

    @ John Littler,

    Maybe I will start to “get it” when someone (maybe you?) gives me a satisfactory explanation of why 10% or 20%, or whatever you think the likely future level of unemployment might be when the robots have taken all our jobs, is preferable to a commensurate reduction in general working hours.

    Meanwhile, while you are thinking about that, you might like to read an article on the topic by Prof Bill Mitchell. He’s pretty smart but he doesn’t “get it” either! That’s probably because there is nothing to get!

  • Slamdac,

    It seems you want a centre party and not a liberal party. If you knew what our policies were in 2001 and 2005 you would see many of them further to the left than the Labour Party. We look back at the 2005 as the best general election result for us since December 1923 excluding 1931 when the Liberal Party was very divided. In 2005 we achieved 22% of the vote and had 62 MPs elected. The party had a higher percentage of the vote (23%) in 2010 but had fewer MPs elected (57). The Alliance had higher shares of the vote, 25.4% in 1983 and 22.6% in 1987 but had fewer MPs elected.

    I don’t think we should be fiscally conservative or socially conservative. Conservatism and liberalism are opposites. We have to be socially liberal. We should have fiscal policies which put people’s wellbeing at the heart of how we run the economy not some outdated idea that government finance is like a household’s finance.

    As Rif Winfield points out, “there is no freedom for people without the economic means to maintain a basic standard of living”. The preamble to our constitution which sets out what we stand for implies that we don’t want to see anyone living in poverty. When I think about what a liberal society looks like I think of there being no one living in poverty, no one being held back by health issues, or because they are a member of any minority group, everyone having access to education and training so they can obtain a job suitable to them, everyone who wants a job having one, everyone who wants a home of their own having one, no one being held back because they don’t conform, plus a society taking actions to deal with the climate change emergency. A society where everyone can reach their full potential.

    Do you want a society like this?

    This list looks nothing like yours, but to link with yours I would add ensuring workers are protected at work and that businesses are supported to setup and grow. Consumer protection needs to be added to this. I see workers rights and consumer protection linking to the liberal view that those with power have to be restrained from abusing this power which they might use to discriminate against or oppress others.

  • John Littler 27th Feb '21 - 4:55pm

    People who suggest that the changes coming to work, will not cause unemployment appear to forget what happened previously

    When Heavy industry and much else shrank, moved overseas or went to the wall in the 80’s, and about 5.5% of GDP was lost in ’81-2, 5 million real unemployment was caused, massaged down to 3.5million by means such as expanding long term sick pay financed by new North Sea Oil and privatisations

    We are now in a perfect storm of 9.9% of GDP lost in 2020, up to 9% predicted lost due to Brexit over several years, with factories, finance, hire and other services, fisheries, retail, haulage and travel companies all impacted upon and worse in N.I. The full effect from Brexit starts in July, as inward customs checks legally have to take place.

    Add in the switch to online, the introduction of advanced software and robotics and tough times are coming and that’s before the Tories start another drive for cuts and tax increases to pay for the Covid measures.

    UBI would produce a less unequal country, encourage enterprise and artistry and would be a great Keynesian boost to the economy, much of the funds derived from taxpayers or companies where much of the funds would otherwise be stockpiled. It could simplify the benefits system and reduce numbers falling between the cracks

  • neil James sandison 2nd Mar '21 - 11:15pm

    There is no reason why you cannot have a UBI safety net .We used to call it social security and a jobs guarantee . Should you take up a starter job or training .you could be then entitled to a top on your UBI . But UBI should not be deducted from other entitlements because UBI would cease to be universal .

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