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.

I was once sent the following article by a Lib Dem UBI detractor who wanted me to see that there were “two sides” to the debate but as you can see although the tone of the article is that, some people have worries, it goes on to state that the evidence overwhelmingly supports the idea that those worries are unfounded. UBI does not reduce the incentive to work. You can find the article HERE. You might also want to read this article from New Scientist laying out the evidence as it stands for UBI: HERE.

So in conclusion I do intend to make my own argument for how we should consider funding UBI, and how to make it politically popular, in a later Lib Dem Voice article but we must first be clear: as the evidence stands we are almost certainly safe economically in funding a UBI through taxation that is high enough to prevent poverty. The highest level suggestion from the Compass proposal is a perfectly viable way of doing just that.

* Stephen is a Council Member for the Social Liberal Forum.

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33 Comments

  • A good starting point would be to add the cost of welfare, state pension, in-work benefits, tax and CGT allowances, child benefits, tax relief on pensions and whatever else would no longer be needed then divide it by the number of people in the country (less those who have not been resident for ten years, to stop the press ridiculing the party on the back of sudden mass immigration to get their hands on the free dosh) and see where we are (with children getting half and pensioners twice the adult rate) as a starting point.

    You then have to have a very simple combined tax/NI system equally applied to CG, dividends, savings and actual income that would be directly linked to any extra UBI above what would result from the savings to stop fraudulent claims during elections. So a party that wanted to double UBI would also have to admit how much the tax rate would rise.

    Finally you can factor in the money back from VAT etc that resutts from UBI in the system (as it is replacing welfare money already in the system then the payback would probably be 5p in the pound rather than the idea that you give someone £100 and get it back through the tax system, although I am sure the Chinese who seem to manufacture everything will be happy chappies with such “progressive” economics).

    Inflation is an important element in this, no good handing out money if it all goes in increased rents.

  • Peter Martin 10th Sep '20 - 11:18am

    “…..the first step is to accept the principle of UBI at conference …..”

    I hate to agree with Joe Otten but he is right to say that principles have to be assessed in parallel to the details – if I’ve understood him correctly. We’d all like the luxury of being able to ignore the implications that come with our principles but sadly we can’t.

    “……and acknowledge it needs to be a high enough amount to live on”

    And how much is this? See what I mean? You haven’t even finished the sentence and already there is an uncomfortable detail to define.

    Possibly I could just about manage on £10k per year after tax and NI. So how about this as a starting point?

    “If I hand you £100 and you then hand me £100 I’m not £100 worse off am I?”

    You’re naively missing the point. At the moment anyone can earn £12.5k before tax. Anyone doing that is making a valuable contribution to society even though they don’t pay income tax. The lady who serves you coffee in the kiosk will only be on minimum wages-if she’s an employee.

    Let’s say we pay her £10k UBI and take away or reduce her tax free threshold and increase her income tax so she now has to work the same amount of time as before to earn an £2.5k. Is she any worse off than before? Not according to your ‘reasoning’. For want of a better word.

    But what’s likely to happen? If I were her, I’d say ‘thanks very much’ for the £10k but there’s no way I’m working the same hours for just £2.5 k. Even if we gave her a £2.5k rise she might still say no.

    All sources of income affect the desire to earn other income. When I was a student I would work in pubs at weekends and in the evenings for what would now be considered minimum pay. Now I don’t do that because I don’t have to. I have other sources of income. And all those who advocate a UBI make exactly the same decisions too.

    That’s not to say that minimum wages should be ultra low or that workers should be denied a job if they need one at a living wage, but we do need to recognise that we do need workers to do the jobs that pay only minimum wages.

  • John Marriott 10th Sep '20 - 11:21am

    None. Crickey, matey, give us a break. Why not deal with something that most people can understand and which is more important to our lives than ‘funny money‘?

  • Laurence Cox 10th Sep '20 - 11:24am

    I have some sympathy with Joe Otten’s comment. While the Compass proposals (and note there are two slightly different proposals in the Reed and Lansley document) are indeed reasonable, there are some issues with them. For example, do we really want to give all pensioners (including rich pensioners) an extra £41/51 per week on top of their State pension? Should we not be incorporating the Party’s Citizens’ Pension policy from 2004 in any UBI we propose, as this would allow us to remove National Insurance as a tax separate from Income Tax, giving us a harmonised tax rate on earned and unearned income.

    I would certainly only vote for the principle of a UBI if there was an undertaking that a detailed proposal with costed options was presented to Conference in 12 months time for approval. I was involved in a SLF working group on UBI under Helen Flynn back in 2017/18 and although we did a good deal of the groundwork then, it seems that this has not been built upon.

  • Stephen Richmond,

    a UBI through taxation that is high enough to prevent poverty. The highest level suggestion from the Compass proposal is a perfectly viable way of doing just that.

    You link to George Kendall’s article and the highest level Compass scheme he sets out is scheme 2, which sets out three UBI rates – pensioners £51 a week, adults under 25 £61 a week, and adults over 24 £71 a week. These are lower than the Universal Credit rate for a single person over 24. It also keeps the existing benefit system. The poverty level according to the Social Metrics Commission for a single person is £157 a week excluding housing costs. Therefore Compass’s scheme 2 does not provide a UBI high enough to prevent poverty. We would need to be advocating one set at £157 a week plus housing costs if we wanted it alone to be high enough to ensure no one in the UK was living in poverty. If we also kept the existing benefit system, housing benefit would need to actually cover the cost of a person’s rent and UBI would need to be set at the poverty line minus the working-age benefit level.

    My local party is going to propose an amendment to the UBI motion implying that we should keep the existing working-age benefit system and that the medium-term aim should be that it combined with a UBI should equal the best estimate of what the poverty level is. Hopefully, it will be selected for debate and conference will pass it.

  • @ John Marriott Sadly, with reluctance, I came to the conclusion in the summer of 2010 that the party I’d been a (radical) member of since 1962 had a death wish. It looks increasingly likely there’s increasing determination to finally accomplish this feat.

    Sam Gyimah, remember him, late of this parish, is recorded as saying party manifestos should be submitted to the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR). At the very least members of the Party’s Lemming Tendency ought to consider this, or something similar, before over the cliff into eternity.

    One also wonders if there’s a more comfortable competent (Radical) vehicle before arriving at the edge of the cliff (or maybe a sit-in Stockport Chippy renowned for the sound of words being eaten about EU commitmenst) ? Fortunately in Scotland there are competent alternatives to a party which saw fit to block an article by one of its more thoughtful former M.P.’s.

    Luke 8. 26-39. is worth a look….. about a herd of porkies ending up in the lake. Not sure what to recommend in the mountains of Lincolnshire other than a second reading of Dangerfield.

  • Michael Sammon 10th Sep '20 - 12:36pm

    None. Would help the people who need it much more if we just doubled universal credit instead.

  • Stephen Richmond 10th Sep '20 - 1:45pm

    Ok so the comments illustrate exactly the problem with UBI that this article and the one tomorrow attempts to address.

    Lib Dems very often get obsessive over details that are really solvable. Then they work ridiculously hard to maintain the status quo, which is bad. Believe me I would love to pass a detailed proposal but LDs need to take the arguments in bits because each bit ends up with an attempt to scrutiny it to death without finding any solutions. The comments here are a great example of this. Every problem in the comments is solved in the article itself.

    The point of this article is ANY UBI scheme is viable.

    Any scheme.

    You can set it at £300/week if you like, still viable.

    Accepting that is what allows us to accept the principle.

    It’s also more efficient than, say, doubling UC or literally any other benefits system you can imagine. Obviously that could be talked about at length but there’s a soft word limit of 500 words on LDV so you get 500 odd words.

    And no there wouldn’t be any problems with people who currently earn £12,500 dropping out of work. That’s why I linked the evidence. It doesn’t happen.

    There isn’t any problem with affordability (short of inflation effects and none of the schemes we might talk about are high enough to break inflation/interest rates).

    The first stage of UBI is accepting the evidence. That’s why we have to accept the principle first. The economics is hard for people to accept, that’s the impass we’re at. Coming up with a workable scheme after that is in some ways easier than getting a certain section of the membership to accept what the evidence says if the evidence goes against their intuition.

    Hence why it’s so important to lay out the principle: UBI is affordable up to any level that doesn’t cause hyperinflation. The trade off is higher interest rates (which we currently want).

    UBI is simpler and more efficient than the other options because of the money back and forth principle. That’s easier than micromanaging who deserves what.

    The evidence is clear that people do not stop worrying.

    All of this is where the evidence is at but we as people are not yet at. The first step is moving our intuitions in line with the data because only then can we design a good scheme.

  • Nonconformistradical 10th Sep '20 - 4:39pm

    Could we get to the problem we are really trying to solve please?

    I would suggest that problem is ensuring that all can afford the basic necessities of life while at the same time ensuring that all the work which needs to be done does get done (by people who are able to obtain the skills needed without bankrupting themselves).

  • Stephen Richmond 10th Sep '20 - 5:41pm

    The New Scientist isn’t the New Statesman. Research is still research, there have been dozens of studies all saying exactly the same thing.

    UBI doesn’t give any more or less to people than NIT nor does it provide any more or less incentive to work. Here are two identical UBI and NIT schemes. I’ve made the maths simple but you can do the same with progressive taxation or a different payout, it just makes the maths harder.

    NIT: -50% tax below threshold, £20,000. 50% tax above that.

    £0 income is £20,000 below the threshold and that is taxed at -50% so the person is paid £10,000 for a final income of £10,000.

    £10,000 income. This is £10,000 below the threshold, applying the -50% tax gives a payout of £5,000 and a final income of £15,000

    Income of £20,000 is in the threshold so is unchanged.

    Income of £100,000 is £80,000 above the threshold, taxed at 50%, leaves a final income of £60,000

    Now the exact same thing with UBI. UBI of £10,000. Flat tax of 50%.

    Income £0. Add on the UBI and you get a final income of £10,000. Same as NIT.

    Income £10,000. Taxed at 50% means £5000 paid in taxes. Then the UBI is given to them for a final inceom of £15,000. Same as NIT.

    Income £20,000. Taxed at 50% is £10,000 but the UBI is also £10,000 and so the final income is unchanged at £20,000. Just like NIT.

    Income £100,000, 50% tax leaves £50,000 + £10,000 UBI = £60,000. Same as NIT.

    Its the same with more realistic progressive taxation. UBI will always have the same net effect as the corresponding NIT.

    We know from the research this has no effect on whether people work. We also know that claiming benefits often leaves people who should get them without them, something that is a risk in NIT but not UBI. NIT also locks you into using income taxes, which are more easily dodged, which UBI gives you flexibility. We know UBI is administratively simpler because its the same amount rather than working out how much each person is owed and distributing that amount.

  • Peter Watson 10th Sep '20 - 6:37pm

    Stephen Richmond “And no there wouldn’t be any problems with people who currently earn £12,500 dropping out of work. That’s why I linked the evidence. It doesn’t happen.”
    I’m not convinced that a time-limited test or trial is sufficient evidence for an effect (or the lack of one) on the incentive to work: the recipients of payments in a trial know that it will come to an end so have to plan beyond that.
    However, I’ve not yet formed an opinion on a universal basic income: my gut-feeling is that it sounds too good to be true but it has too many advocates to be dismissed out of hand. It will certainly be interesting to see how the debate plays out.
    In the context of this article, it doesn’t seem unreasonable for Lib Dems to accept the principle before fleshing out the details (if they like the principle, obviously!), but I don’t think you can present it to the electorate as a policy until you have those details. They will be vital in building a simple, compelling case to overcome the sort of gut-feeling that makes me a little uncomfortable about the whole thing!

  • Peter Martin 10th Sep '20 - 6:40pm

    And no there wouldn’t be any problems with people who currently earn £12,500 dropping out of work.

    You don’t know that. You haven’t linked to the evidence. The experiments have not been done.

    Obviously if UBI is ultra low it won’t make much difference. But the more generous it becomes the greater the effect. If UBI is a “high enough amount to live on” why bother going out to work? Especially if the net pay after tax is so much less than it used to be.

    If the Lib Dems are really an evidence based party show me the evidence!

  • Remember to cost in the whole Byzantine apparatus around benefits administration – salaries of all the admin assistants, admin officers, clerical assistants, clerical officers-, executive officers, lower managers, middle AMs gets, upper managers, appeals, fraud, and of the places they work, rent, cleaning, equipment, water, lighting etc etc. Multiply this by the structures of UC, Council Tax benefit, pensions, widows benefit, Sick benefit, et al …. cut it all out, work out how much to allocate to each citizen and get on with it! It won’t do to double UC benefits, that’s keeping the whole rotten edifice.

  • Stephen Richmond 10th Sep '20 - 7:26pm

    Peter there have been dozens of studies. Pretty sure between the two links there there are multiple studies listed.

    The first meaningful one was the mincome experiment in Canada in the 1970s. Since then there have been experiments on every continent at many levels, including more than enough to live on. I believe they are linked in the 2nd of the 3 links.

    To say the evidence is consistent rather understates it. As much as we can know anything in economics we know we can give a UBI that’s high enough to live on safely. Much as there are multiple benefits systems around the world that are generous to live on. It’s a non-problem.

    Now for amounts above that we don’t know and that’s a far more interesting question for Liberals: can we push a cash payment higher? How much can we give people? That would be great! For the time being though any version of the Lib Dems believes poverty is wrong. Nobody should be in poverty. We have formally adopted a motion opposing sanctions for benefits. The evidence, from both links that connect to evidence and the evidence base more widely, is clear that this is doable.

    That being the case we should adopt the simplest most resource efficient system. That’s UBI.

  • Peter Martin 10th Sep '20 - 8:52pm

    @ Stephen Richmond,

    Minicom was a small scale pseudo- test of limited duration. It didn’t impact on the Canadian economy in any significant way. To the participants, any benefit was simply a windfall that couldn’t be relied upon indefinitely. So anyone running a business or with an aspiration to pursue a career would largely ignore whatever temporary effects they felt.

    By definition, it’s impossible to test out a Universal Basic Income. The only way you’ll know how well, or badly, it will function is to launch headlong into it.

    Comments like “Pretty sure between the two links there there are multiple studies listed” , “it’s a non-problem” and “UBI is affordable up to any level that doesn’t cause hyperinflation” aren’t evidence based and aren’t going to convince anyone. On the last point, if GDP fell by, say, 30% we’d all be 30% on average worse off. That’s what’s happened in Italy since the GFC. They don’t have hyperinflation but they are still in bad shape.

    The only way you’ll get the evidence is to let some other country try it out first in a full and genuine way. If Canada or Finland or whoever else think they already have enough data to go ahead, and they are convinced it’s a good idea then let them give it a go. Good luck to them. If they are right we can think about copying them. There’s no reason we have to be first to try out every new harebrained scheme!

  • George Kendall 10th Sep '20 - 10:07pm

    Hi Stephen,

    Thanks for responding to my article.

    Three points:

    (1) You say that we should agree in principle with UBI, before going into specifics. I don’t understand this argument. We could say to the policy committee: “We like the idea. Please come up with some specifics so we can decide if it is something we want to support.” But you’re asking us to commit to it without the details. I think that’d be very unwise.

    (2) You suggest that UBI is different from other government spending, that where it involves recirculating money it doesn’t count as government spending, and the taxes used to raise it don’t count as taxes. But that’s not how we see existing benefits where they do the same.

    The UBI schemes I have seen are pretty much identical to government spending in the welfare government, including child benefit and basic state pension. They take in taxes, with a higher proportion from the rich, and give it back in the form of benefits, which disproportionately benefit the poor.

    The Compass proposals involve: removing the tax threshold, increasing income tax by 3% or so, and increasing taxes on high earners by an extra 10% by removing the NI ceiling. Then using that to fund a fixed amount for everyone, including those paying no tax. It would provide a net benefit for most people, at the cost of a significant net loss for high rate tax payers.

    They do involve a lot churn in the money – for a fair number it would involve taking as much as is given. But, it’s still pretty similar to the way taxation funds many benefits.
    1/2

  • George Kendall 10th Sep '20 - 10:08pm

    2/2
    (3) There is the political nightmare of how we could possibly sell such a policy. Look at the following IFS report on the Lib Dem 2019 manifesto:
    https://www.ifs.org.uk/election/2019/article/liberal-democrat-manifesto-an-initial-reaction-from-ifs
    If we added the Compass paper’s proposals to our 2019 manifesto, the IFS would report that we were going to increase spending by £191.9bn/yr, and presumably £191.9bn/yr more in taxes.

    According to the BBC, there are around 30 million taxpayers in the UK. Our political opponents would say we wanted to raise taxes by £6,000/person. If we responded with: but most people would gain as much as they lost, how many of our voters would even understand us, let alone believe us?

    I know we mustn’t be prisoners of public opinion. We must be willing to propose changes, otherwise what’s the point of involvement in politics? But we’ve already been doing that. In 2017, we were the only party with proposals to reverse the 2015 Tory benefits cuts.

    And there’s a world of difference between steady significant change and proposing such enormous tax increases that we would risk destroying the party.

    It seems to me a far better option would be to explore some kind of negative income tax, which would need far smaller tax rises, because its spending would be targeted at those who really need it.

  • Peter Martin 11th Sep '20 - 1:52am

    A UBI of about £800 to £1600 pa, along the lines of Alaska PDD, wouldn’t be ” a high enough amount to live on”. Especially in London. It may just pay the rent for a week or two but not much else.

    The motivation for introducing a UBI is presumably to make the system fairer than it is. But how is it unfair at the moment? The purpose of taxation isn’t to raise money as it might first appear. It is to create a debt in the population that we can only clear by selling something. This is usually our Labour power. It’s this, rather than money, which makes the economy function. The food we eat, for example,is the direct result of all the labour power, together with the contribution of nature, that goes into making it.

    It other words the government creates the condition of unemployment which we can only correct by obtaining employment. Some would say this is unfair in itself. But it’s the way the system works in both capitalist and socialist societies. Lib Dems may not like the idea but I haven’t seen them propose anything better.

    This works fine if we are lucky enough to have the skills to sell at a good price in the marketplace. But what if we don’t, or the marketplace doesn’t want our skills? This is the source of the real unfairness and can only be corrected by the Govt being the employer of last resort. It needs to provide a Job Guarantee at a living wage for those who need it.

  • Tony Ferguson 11th Sep '20 - 10:10am

    Generally I agree that the specifics need to be worked out first before we can sign up to this otherwise we will spend the whole general election trying to explain a) how much people will get and b) how we will pay for it?

    @Stephen Richmond

    “The point of this article is ANY UBI scheme is viable.”

    Really where is the evidence to support that? Lets pay all adults £3,000 a month and all Children £1,000 – is that viable?

    “There isn’t any problem with affordability (short of inflation effects and none of the schemes we might talk about are high enough to break inflation/interest rates)”

    Again where is the evidence that such schemes on a population wide basis will not cause inflation/hyperinflation? The closest to a mass experiment appears to be the helicopter money in the USA – currently stalled, but once the Fed coin goes through expect to see a lot more of this, signs are that inflation is growing over there and this is now an explicit Fed policy. The trouble is if they run the economy “hot” and get the inflation will they be able to control it? Normally you would raise interest rates but given the huge levels of debt this does not seem a viable option as it will bring the whole thing crashing down

    “The trade off is higher interest rates (which we currently want).”

    Really? levels of debt are not serviceable if rates go up. This why central banks are pursuing (either openly or discretely) policies of low rates (and yield curve control) and massive QE – the aim is to create inflation and reduce the debt that way by effectively having negative real interest rates.

    Frankly a better solution (to the coming economic crisis) would be to buy Gold even at current levels, Sadly Gordon Brown sold half our reserves of Gold at the bottom – indeed it is even known as Brown’s bottom

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sale_of_UK_gold_reserves,_1999%E2%80%932002

  • Laurence Cox 11th Sep '20 - 10:38am

    @Stephen Richmond

    I see that you are continuing to ignore the Citizens’ Pension, which is already Party policy and has been since 2004. This was a far better worked-out proposal largely because of input from Steve Webb, who was then an MP, and from the Pensions Policy Instute under, now Baroness, Ros Altmann.

    All I am seeing from you is going round-and-round on the same ground that I went over in the SLF working group under Helen Flynn several years ago. You say that you are a SLF Council Member; did you ever go back and look at what the SLF had done on this before?

  • Rif Winfield 11th Sep '20 - 11:06am

    The most important aspect of Universal Basic Income (as agreed by the Libertal Party in the 1970s) is that it should be a universal payment, i.e. paid to every adult citizen of the country. This includes the very wealthy, on the basis that the rates of Income Tax (and other personal taxation) would rise and those with highest income would end up by paying more than they do now. This overcomes the basic problem with many systems described as variants of UBI (some of them described in this article), which are actually not UBI at all, but alterations in the system of welfare benefits. Most importantly, it overcomes the stigma that is associated with everyone who is claiming money from the state, and therefore deters many of those in most need from making any claim.

  • Innocent Bystander 11th Sep '20 - 11:20am

    The naivety of the arithmetic is astounding. Is it considered rude to observe that those on £50k plus pay the same is facile?
    There aren’t enough of them.
    They are hugely outnumbered by the takers. Any plausible UBI must involve swingeing increases in personal and corporate tax.
    This nation is already desperately short of energy, ambition, hunger, imagination, enterprise, risk taking and new economic activity.
    Will increased taxes help? No. The opposite.
    Oh, sorry. I forgot that UBI will give people freedom to start new businesses. What? Sandwich bars, poodle shampooing parlours, wedding planners?
    The evidence offered was collected by those desperate for UBI to take off and has no value. One of the links led me to a research result which showed recipients were more “positive about the future”. If that’s the best the researcher can come up with, take his pencil away and give him a bike and a Deliveroo bag so he can do something useful.
    UBI will be rightly dismissed as the ” Couch Potatoes Charter”.

  • Peter Watson 11th Sep '20 - 1:09pm

    @Laurence Cox “the Citizens’ Pension, which is already Party policy and has been since 2004”
    For me, this raises a question about Lib Dem policy-making (so apologies if I’m diverting the thread here).
    Googling this and looking at old manifestos, it seems that the aspect relevant to UBI is that the Citizen’s Pension policy launched in 2004 is based on residency instead of National Insurance contributions. So in the 2005 manifesto we have “We propose a ‘citizen’s pension’, based on residency instead of national insurance contributions, which would – at last – provide women who have spent time caring for children and elderly parents a pension in their own right.”
    In 2010 there seemed to be a bit of back-pedalling: “In the long term, aim to bring in a Citizen’s Pension that will be paid to all UK citizens who are long-term residents, set at the level of the Pension Credit, though this can only be done when resources allow.”
    And then in 2015, 2017 and 2019 it doesn’t seem to come up at all, and in 2017 there was “Aim in the long term, and as resources allow, to raise the employee national insurance threshold to the Income Tax threshold, while protecting low earners’ ability to accrue pension and benefit entitlements.”
    So is it still party policy, and if so, how are voters to know? And if not, when was it changed?
    This reminds me of a couple of conference votes a few years ago (2016?) on education (academic selection, faith schools) which did not make it into the 2017 or 2019 manifestos, leaving me unclear about whether or not they are party policy, and how exactly the party goes about establishing (and changing) policies and communicating them to voters.

  • Laurence Cox 12th Sep '20 - 1:57pm

    @Peter Watson
    You have put your finger on part of the problem. While Conference is the Party’s policy-making forum, it does not have the power to force the Parliamentary Leadership to put any specific policy into the General Election manifesto. So, the Citizen’s Pension policy was created under Charles Kennedy’s leadership who certainly was supportive of it. The 2010 and 2015 manifestos were written under Nick Clegg’s leadership and reflected his Orange-Book preferences*. Without powerful MPs to press for reform it was inevitable that reform would run into the sand.

    Politics is said to be the art of the possible, and I cannot criticise Steve for failing to push the Citizen’s Pension during the Coalition years. We did at least get the triple-lock and the legislation for auto-enrolment through, neither of which would have been an automatic Tory policy. Between 2004 and 2010 Labour also introduced some changes to treat those with caring responsibilities as being equivalent to being employed, for purposes of calculating their State Pension.

    So, to answer your question in the final paragraph; any policy that has been passed by Conference is Party policy and remains so until superseded by a later conference. However, unless you are prepared to make yourself a member of the ‘awkward squad’ it will be almost impossible to prevent our Parliamentarians ignoring previous conference votes. Your best chance of success is to find an MP who thinks like you and has also been put into a position by the Party Leadership where they are the spokesperson on the issue.

    *There were some on the Left of the Party, like Steve Webb and Vince Cable who wrote chapters for the Orange Book, but mostly the contributors came from the Right of the Party.

  • Stephen Richmond,

    It is disappointing that you didn’t address any of the points I made in my earlier comment or addressed any of your comments of 1.45 pm on Thursday at particular people by addressing your comments to the relevant person by name. You wrote, “Every problem in the comments is solved in the article itself”, with regard to my comments this is not so. How would you modify the Compass scheme 2 to ensure a single person earning £12,500 was not worse off as I have set out?

    You do not set out what you mean by viable. It seems you mean that taxes can be changed to fund it. A UBI will change behaviour and this is recognised but not quantified in articles on UBI. In the pilot schemes those receiving a UBI often work less and often increase the time spent on education and training. This is often seen as an advantage of a UBI.

    A UBI is not more efficient in raising people out of poverty than increasing the benefit level to the poverty line. For example in February there were about 8 million households receiving benefits and therefore an increase in benefits of £1000 a year would cost £8 billion. If a UBI were increased by the same amount it would cost £43.26 billion if just those of working age received it and about £55.26 billion if pensioners also received the increase. There is no way this can be seen as more efficient. Universal provision is always more expensive than targeted or means-tested provision. However, there are a couple of advantages of universal provision – everyone receives it, there are no take-up issues (many people eligible for means-tested benefits do not received them or even claim them because of the difficulties in claiming them), and the administration costs are less. The current universal benefits are universal to a sub-set of the population (such as children or pensioners) not the whole adult population or even the whole working-age population which are much larger groups. According to government figures there are 43.26 million working-age people in the UK and about 12 million pensioners.

  • Peter Watson 13th Sep '20 - 9:52am

    @Laurence Cox “So, to answer your question in the final paragraph; any policy that has been passed by Conference is Party policy and remains so until superseded by a later conference”
    In some ways that’s a little concerning, and makes it harder for me to work out what the party actually believes in, as there’s a potential gap between the policies the party has and the ones it publicises.
    If Lib Dems had formed a majority government last December they would have revoked Brexit, justifying it because it was a high-profile commitment in the manifesto. It might have then surprised people if the new Lib Dem government went on to “Ensure that selection in admissions on the basis of religion or belief to state-funded schools is phased out” and “abandon the selection by ability and social separation of young people, into different schools” because they’d had conference votes in 2016 & 2017 but neglected to tell anybody!

  • Laurence Cox 13th Sep '20 - 3:38pm

    @Peter Watson,

    Yes, but generally a GE manifesto contains those policies that a Party wants to enact in the next Parliament should the voters give them an overall majority. It would be difficult to argue for enacting some random policy chosen by Conference ahead of manifesto promises. If you haven’t looked in detail at how legislation gets through Parliament, you might be surprised at how many stages there are and, of course, even Party manifestos need to be turned into Bills by the Parliamentary Draftsmen. This is non-trivial.

    The other issue is that even with a Commons majority the Lib Dems would still be in a minority in the Lords, and the Lords are not expected to allow through Government legislation (apart from Finance Bills) unless a commitment has been made in the manifesto. Using the Parliament Act to overcome this means at least an extra 12 months delay and also gums up the legislative process.

  • Peter Watson 13th Sep '20 - 8:07pm

    @Laurence Cox
    Thanks for that.
    The problem it gives me is that I cannot see that the party has any commitment to “phasing out” selection on the basis of religion and “abandoning” selection by ability despite that appearing to be the members’ wishes (3-4 years ago, anyway!). Sticking with education, in the Coalition years I saw the leadership bounce the party into reversing its position on tuition fees and then surprise the party with a new policy on universal free school meals (which also reversed a position that various parts of the party had previously taken).
    Perhaps I’ve taken too close an interest in a particular policy area at a particular time in the party’s history and it’s given me the wrong impression, but it certainly raises doubts every time I read that a unique selling point of the Lib Dems is that policy is made by the members.

  • Peter Watson,

    Members should be more aware of who is appointed to the manifesto writing working group. I have the impression that in recent years there has been a majority of Parliamentarians appointed, while in the past they were a minority. I think this leads to a more conservative manifesto. Of course this might reflect a move in opinion of those elected and appointed to the Federal Policy Committee. According to an article written by Richard Grayson in 2010 (https://www.newstatesman.com/uk-politics/2010/07/liberal-democrats-social-party) social liberals were elected in sufficient numbers to the Federal Policy Committees in 2008 for 2009 and 2010 to defeat the move to the right in policy and ensure that social liberal policies were included in the 2010 manifesto, including according to him explicitly ruling “out major cuts in 2010-2011” and opposing the scale and timing of cuts put forward by the Conservative Party. There is still a need for social liberals to organise ourselves so we again get sufficient social liberals elected to all Federal Committees to ensure that the members have control of the Federal Party and we become again a clearly social liberal party.

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