Why we shouldn’t just jump on the UBI bandwagon

While debating other liberals about Universal Basic Income (UBI) it occurred to me that UBI isn’t a voter winner, certainly outside of London. Nor is it actually workable.

One policy, suggested on Lib Dem Voice by Darren Martin, was to pay a £830 Univeral Basic Income to each citizen age 15 and over. This would be an increase to average incomes for those aged 15-24, but when you study the policy closer you begin to see huge faults with it.

This policy would actually have a negative impact on those aged 25 and over who claim some support at the moment. For example, a single mother of 2 in receipt of the job seekers element of Universal Credit would be entitled to £313.04 per week. If this person had a disability and was unable to work she would get £384.63 per week.

Those suggesting we should adopt UBI as a party policy need to recognise that it must consider everyone. At the moment I’ve seen nothing that suggests it would be better for people without a job or indeed those who are unable to work due to no fault for their own. If we replace the current welfare system with UBI it will leave households massively worse off.

Our policy shouldn’t be giving everyone money for nothing. Support should be given those who are most in need of the helping hand. That isn’t to say our current welfare system isn’t in tatters. It should be looked at. What we should focus ourselves with is not the ideas coming out of the middle class comfort zone this party too often fails to reach beyond, but ideas from working class areas to tackle working class problems. Yes, we should be radical but we should remain grounded to what is desirable and what is deliverable.

* Stephen O'Brien is a Liberal Democrat City Councillor in Sunderland.

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43 Comments

  • Darren Martin 19th May '20 - 4:06pm

    Stephen, your entire article is not correct and you know it isn’t because in numerous exchanges on Facebook after my article was published I explained to you that support needed above whatever level the UBI is set at would be maintained. I set out this is estimated to cost £15-£20 billion annually and within a pot likely much higher than £500 trillion, that is easily done.
    In other exchanges on the extended article that was published on the weekend I set out why the UBI could be paid at a much higher level than the £830.
    The point of the article wasn’t to debate what level it would be set at, much of that debate falls within the philosophical and social arguments of the debate. It was showing we can afford to pay for one should we wish to using the micro-tax idea I set out.

  • George Kendall 19th May '20 - 4:32pm

    @Stephen O’Brien
    Thank you for posting that, Stephen.

    I have three big problems with UBI.

    1) Will UBI mean less spending for the NHS and other priorities?

    Some versions of UBI would inevitably mean funding of the NHS, education, housing and other bread and butter issues will suffer.
    For example: some LibDems support the Compass proposal. This would increase income tax and national insurance by £140bn/yr. That’s 75% more than Corbyn’s entire 2019 manifesto. How could we support that *and* fund our other priorities?

    2) UBI can mean different things.

    It can be supported by the right, as a cash hand-out to replace the welfare state. It can be supported by socialists, as part of a program to bring in enormous tax increases.
    Even with those that are in-between, there are huge differences. Some versions are funded by massive tax increases, others by benefits cuts.
    Too often, advocates of UBI fail to provide a link giving a detailed UBI design. Without such a link, meaningful discussion is impossible.

    3) Will it help the right people?

    The argument from UBI advocates is that for most people tax increases will cover the cost of the benefit. That’s may be true of most people, but not all.

    Take an affluent person who has substantial assets but low income. A rise in income tax won’t affect them so they will be net beneficiaries. If a million people like that were getting £12,000/yr UBI, that’d be £12 bn/year extra spending on people who don’t need the help. Before supporting such a scheme, I’d want to be convinced that we weren’t diverting £12bn/year from the NHS and important poverty reduction policies in order to bring it in.

    I’m not saying that UBI won’t bring benefits. It should simplify the system, reduce fraud and provide a more secure safety net. But will the benefits be worth the price?

  • Peter Martin 19th May '20 - 5:11pm

    ” If we replace the current welfare system with UBI it will leave households massively worse of”

    Yes. That’s the whole point of it. It’s a neoliberal con job. The welfare system could include the NHS and other social programs too. Sure, it wouldn’t be sold or start off like that but just give it a couple of years! Milton Friedman, an early UBI advocate, who could do basic arithmetic opined:

    “if enacted as a substitute for the present rag bag of measures directed at the same end, the total administrative burden would surely be reduced.”

    And the “rag bag of measures” he would hope to eliminate?

    “direct welfare payments and programs of all kinds, old age assistance, social security, aid to dependent children, public housing, veterans’ benefits, minimum-wage laws, and public health programs, hospitals and mental institutions.”

    https://neweconomics.opendemocracy.net/universal-basic-income-is-a-neoliberal-plot-to-make-you-poorer/

  • Stephen O'Brien 19th May '20 - 5:20pm

    @Nick Barlow we will always need some means testing available to government to assess whether individuals need more in a helping hand then others, it is right to assess someones need for extra case based on a number of things disability and or low income. Its nice to say we can have a flat ammount of money going to everyone but that may not even come close to equaling thier need.

  • Spain has introduced a UBI scheme for certain people cos of the virus.It would be interesting to see why it has appeared,what it entails and its consequences. What with Scandanavia and now Spain it seems to be gaining traction. These schemes should be monitored .

  • Stephen obrien 19th May '20 - 5:56pm

    @nhunter
    Spain has not replaced the current welfare state the monthly payments is an extra on top of what ever welfare, in all of the debate ive had and indeed ive seen in the party was to replace the welfare state and replace it with a UBI.

  • Simon McGrath 19th May '20 - 6:08pm

    good article – the indiffernce to the gigantic cost is shocking.

    @Nigel ” Spain has introduced a UBI scheme for certain people cos of the virus”
    by definition if its for ‘certain people’ it isn’t a UBI!

  • Adam Bernard 19th May '20 - 6:19pm

    You know, “some people have additional needs like disabilities” *is* something that people proposing UBI have considered. This is why we are proposing that there be some additional need-based aid on top. Thus UBI does not replace *every single* aspect of the current benefits system.

    You are, to judge from Darren’s comments above, setting up strawmen. Yes, the levels of UBI can be set at various values, as he told you. The levels of taxation likewise need to take UBI into account so that for the affluent the gain is balanced by slightly higher taxes.

    Every single person who has been sanctioned, who has been unfairly found to be fit for work, who’s fallen through the cracks of the paperwork: any assessment based system that attempts to avoid (in your words) “giving everyone something for nothing” will have these flaws.
    The onus is on the opponents of UBI to say why they are content to stick with a system that has failed so many so vulnerable people.

    PS I think, having been advocating this for most of a decade, that I am absolved of “jumping on bandwagon” charges.

  • Adam Bernard 19th May '20 - 6:25pm

    “public health programs, hospitals and mental institutions.”

    Find me a single person within the Lib Dems who’s advocating abolishing the NHS, public health programs or “mental institutions”[sic] in favour of UBI. Or admit that you’re talking about a strawman version of the policy that absolutely no-one here is advocating.

  • stephen obrien 19th May '20 - 6:32pm

    why does it have to be UBI why I can’t we discuss a negative income tax system? I agree that the welfare system needs reform but it needs to be focused on the poorest in society middle/upper class people should not receive money we are trying to tackle the gap this does nothing to tackle z inequility gap where does the system have to cover everyone no matter of income why cant we have a welfare system which is focused on delivering for the poorest in Society?

  • Peter Martin 19th May '20 - 6:47pm

    @ Adam Bernard,

    You’re missing the point. A confidence trick involves someone being tricked. Yes most Lib Dems are well meaning but somewhat gullible! You’ve only 12 MPs and 7.4% of the vote, so where is the necessary support going to come from?

    @ William Francis,

    MMT doesn’t support the idea of a UBI. Lots of reasons. See below. We know the government can just create the money but that doesn’t mean they should. Yes we should probably have wealth taxes, mansion taxes, and LVT too, but there’s nowhere near the money in land as there might initially appear. It’s all based on valuations. Those valuations assume Land is taxed as it currently is. Change that and you’ll change the valuations too.

    http://tankona.free.fr/tcherneva1218.pdf

  • Adam Bernard 19th May '20 - 6:55pm

    Thank you, Peter, for informing me that I’m gullible and that there’s no point in my doing anything because we don’t have a lot of MPs.

  • These UBI ‘trials’ if multiplied to all will give the cost to a country if universally applied. This can tell whether it is ‘better’ (cheaper ,costlier)) than a standard benefit system. Possibly install it and add it to the national debt? In time it becomes just part of the furniture. Remember it is not only for money purposes that it would be provided for but also mental health. Early days.Its time may come

  • Peter Martin 19th May '20 - 8:20pm

    @ JoeB,

    We used to have a universal child benefit. I seem to remember that most Lib Dem MPs voted in 2102 to stop it being “universal” !

    In any case there’s a generally accepted view that those who aren’t of working age, either because they are too old or too young, should be supported by society. So your examples of child benefit and universal education are largely covered by this principle.

    So what about the NHS? Is this an example of a UBI? No it isn’t, because it largely applies when people are sick or maybe pregnant. It’s a basic principle of humanity that we help others when they need help in these circumstances. It doesn’t apply to the able bodied who are quite capable of making a contribution to society.

    Having said this, we should provide everyone with work at a living wage who needs work. This makes much more sense than handing out money to everyone regardless of need.

  • George Kendall 19th May '20 - 8:27pm

    @Joseph Bourke
    Hi Joseph, thanks for the links.

    As the Spanish scheme is for 1 million poorer families, obviously it’s a targeted benefit and not a UBI. It sounds like it might be similar to tax credits. If I were Spanish, I would probably support it.

    Re the Howard Reed/Stewart Lansley UBI described by that 2019 Guardian article, at the end of the article it clarifies what it means. The £28bn/yr would be reduced welfare spending, but the total cost of the scheme would be £300bn/yr, much covered by increases in taxation.

    If you look at their report on the Compass website, https://www.compassonline.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/UniversalBasicIncomeByCompass-Spreads.pdf
    on page 15, they are more specific.
    One would involve tax increases of £140.2bn (the figure I was quoting in my comment above), another more expensive version would mean £160.6bn tax increases.
    As I think Layla Moran and others have referred to the Compass proposal, my guess is it is this that Lib Dem UBI supporters want. But it would be helpful if they could confirm that, and, if so, which version of Lansley and Reed’s proposals.

    There are many other types of UBI. The costed proposal on the Green website involves much higher benefit cuts to pay for it then the Compass version (£164bn/yr). That really worries me, as I can’t see how such a design could avoid many on benefit losing out in a big way.
    https://policy.greenparty.org.uk/assets/files/Policy%20files/Basic%20Income%20Consultation%20Paper.pdf

    Re the Malcolm Torry proposals, Reed and Lansley are critical of his plans to fund it. In Appendix C they say “While the scheme would have been almost revenue neutral, it would have left 28% of households in the lowest decile worse off by more than a tenth.” If they are right, I would strongly oppose it.

  • Peter Martin 19th May '20 - 8:41pm

    @ Joe B,

    “First, the statement – it isn’t a vote winner.”

    Stephen O’Brien is quite right. It isn’t. The survey you are citing is particular to the current crisis. Support for a possible emergency measure isn’t at all the same thing as general support for the concept in normal times.

    You need to get out a bit more, after the lockdown, and talk to normal people! They will generally support the idea of putting more money into the health services and even giving people a helping hand when they need one but they won’t support the concept of money for nothing!

    In any case, they aren’t generally that gullible. They’ll smell a rat! And with good reason. They’ve probably never read Milton Friedman on the subject but they’ll just know that if something sounds too good to be true it probably is.

    You might have some small success I suppose. There’ll always someone who’ll be taken in my stories of Nigerian exiles who need someone with a UK bank account to access a stash of several million dollars!

  • Sunderland is in danger of being outflanked by Hull and other Northern cities https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/jan/19/hull-universal-basic-income-trial who want to become the first UK city to test a weekly universal basic income for its residents after a cross-party group of councillors formally backed the idea.
    Three major northern cities – Liverpool, Sheffield and Hull – have now asked to host pilots of this radical new idea, because the Westminster way of doing things has failed these communities for far too long.
    Jack Haines, a Liberal Democrat councillor on Hull city council, said Britain’s welfare system was broken and that UBI could be a better way of helping those most in need. He said: “Hull is a progressive city and I’m proud the Liberal Democrats here as well as the other parties have chosen to try out this new policy, which has the possibility to transform the city and the country.”

  • Stephen obrien 19th May '20 - 10:12pm

    I dont think sunderland are in danger of missing out on something what doesnt exist, Ive seen nothing what suggest’s to me that people have an idea of what form of UBI they would like. I simply warn people that it can not be deemed as unafforable in normal times, and it MUST take in to account the individual needs. But i would also ad that if you tag on old bites of the welfare system it just because a clumsy effort which looks slightly odd. AGAIN not a fan of the current welfare system, I would be infavour of a grant based system in where if you earn 0 you get x ammount a month and then it tapers off while your income increases.

  • Stephen,

    Torry writes in the workings to his paper “An important advantage of Universal Credit (UC) over the legacy benefits is that the combined means-tested benefit exhibits a single taper rate, whereas the legacy system, composed of several different means-tested benefits, could result in more than one taper being imposed at the same time, resulting in a substantial total benefit withdrawal when earned income rose. ”
    The minimum income guarantee combines UC with a non-withdrawable basic allowance that forms the Universal element. Additional elements for child benefits, disability, and housing are paid as now and taper off as earnings rise. The same amount of basic allowance is available to taxpayers as fixed tax and National insurance relief against the first £12,500 of income. That is what makes it near Universal. The only people that don’t benefit from a minimum income guarantee are those with no taxable income who are not eligible to register for benefits i.e. mostly spouses of higher earners (over £50k).
    It is worth reading Torry’s article ‘Some Lessons from the Recent UK Debate about Universal Basic Income” to get a better feel for the extent of the work that has been done in this area. This is not a populist bandwagon. It is a serious area of research that has engaged a number of leading poverty campaigners for quite some years now.

  • Great article. The number of articles recently pushing UBI have felt a lot like an unstoppable train (or railroad!) towards adopting it as party policy. Given the huge cost of any reasonable level of UBI, the reasons given for introducing such a policy are not at all convincing.

    For those claiming this is attacking a strawman version of UBI I have a simple challenge – please outline the sort of UBI that you want to see, how much it would roughly cost, where the money would come from, who would be the winners and losers etc? The problem is that it seems we’ve been asked to support UBI “in principle” without these answers.

  • John Harris had a well-argued article in the Guardian a couple of weeks back https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/may/03/universal-basic-income-coronavirus-shocks

    ” Ten days ago, the left-inclined pressure group Compass organised a letter, signed by more than 100 MPs and peers from seven parties, calling for a “recovery basic income” that would be “sufficient to provide economic security”. An accompanying paper sets out the case for these short-term measures being followed by a permanent basic income – set at a starting rate of £60 a week per working-age adult and £40 per child (or £10,400 per year for a family of four), with additional unemployment, housing and disability benefits maintained. Over time, this “income floor” could rise to £100 per adult.
    “…we need to think hard about a set of realities that the 20th century did not prepare us for. This crisis is likely be repeated. Covid-19, after all, is just the latest sign of the horrors let loose by human incursion into parts of the natural world. Even once the current disaster is somehow dealt with, the catastrophe of climate change – which itself increases the danger of disease, as tropical illnesses start to threaten new places – will speed on. This latest economic crash arrives only 12 years after the last one. We live, in short, in an age of ongoing shocks, and it is time we began to prepare.”
    “As and when that happens, debates about how to change what we get from the state will only be one part of the conversation. As the public response to this crisis proves, another key aspect of our changed reality is the amazing amount of local self-help the outbreak has triggered, and how important it is that this does not disappear.”
    “But if you are going to enable people to care for their family, friends and neighbours and involve themselves in their community, many of them will need the freedom to do the kind of work that currently brings no financial reward. Which brings us back to a basic income – and a question that, whatever people’s doubts, needs to be asked with a real urgency. If unprecedented times demand drastic answers, isn’t this where we should begin?”

  • Peter Martin 20th May '20 - 3:34am

    As Julian Tisi rightly asks above:

    “please outline the sort of UBI that you want to see, how much it would roughly cost, where the money would come from, who would be the winners and losers etc? ”

    This, of course, is where it all falls down. A UBI superficially looks good until the numbers start to be calculated. Either it looks unaffordable, if it’s too generous, or inconsequential, or worse, if it’s too small.

    But it goes further than that. Many proponents of a UBI have latched on to the MMT truism that a currency issuing government isn’t constrained in its spending by revenue received. The two are largely separate operations. There is nothing to stop it from creating as much money as it wants and paying it to somebody. The question is, how do you set up a system, which assures that real goods and services are created which those ££ are assumed to be able to purchase?

    As Pavlina Tcherneva puts it in the link I posted earlier:

    “Mailing a check is easy. Guaranteeing that every individual can acquire the needed real goods and services for a basic living standard is the hard part.”

  • George Kendall 20th May '20 - 10:40am

    @Joseph Bourke
    I really liked the short Torry paper you linked to. https://www.ifo.de/DocDL/CESifo-Forum-2018-3-torry-unconditrional-basic-income-september.pdf

    In it, he explains why the Citizen’s Basic Income Trust no longer publish critiques of other UBI designs (because Tory MPs would misquote them). That’s understandable, but it weakens public debate about the different UBI designs. The very weakness of that debate has been one of my big frustrations when trying to read up on UBI.

    I suspect most Lib Dem UBI sceptics are like myself: seriously worried for the future of the party if we become saddled with tax rises 75% higher than Corbyn proposed in 2019, to fund just a single policy. I fear it would crowd out other spending policies, and make it impossible for us to frame our manifesto around the real concerns of voters outside affluent metropolitan areas.

    What makes me even more worried is the weakness of debate in the party. Yourself excepted, too often the response to genuine concerns has been to attack the questioner, and ignore any requests for more information. If this approach to policy debate is the new norm, I really worry for the future of a party that I have been a member of since it was formed.

    What Torry proposes sounds much more reasonable. Maybe his proposals would achieve what he wants. However, doesn’t his model add an additional benefit to the complexity of the existing system? I’ll try to allocate more time to examining his proposals in more detail, and try to assess what benefits it brings and how much it would cost.

    But my ability to understand the implications of these designs is limited. I am only an informed layman after all. What I would find helpful is detailed critiques from both pro-UBI and anti-UBI critics. But what debate I have found online has either been too superficial, too technical to easily understand, or polemic from one side or the other.

  • George Kendall 20th May '20 - 10:41am

    @Joe Bourke

    Regarding the opinion poll you quote, I am very sceptical. It would be easy to get the average voter to support something like UBI with a push poll, that offered them free money, without mentioning the tax rises that would accompany it.

    To really test how the public would respond in a general election, it would have to allow for the inevitable Tory campaign against it. Something like: “would you be willing to pay an extra £4600/year taxes for a benefit that goes to everyone regardless of their situation?”

    But such a poll, of course, could end up as push polling in the other direction. Probably it’d be impossible to design a neutral poll.

  • I’ll always support UBI but it needs to be pitched at the right level, too high and it will be dismissed either by conference or by the public.

    Alongside that it needs to be sold as Liberal policy from the point of fundamental liberal values. Quality of debate matters but all sides of the debate need to provide that. If you are going to argue against UBI you need to put forward an alternative proposal.

    In my view we’ve seen laid bare the failings of the current approach to welfare, those failings go beyond government competence and that’s why we need to look towards new solutions to ending poverty.

  • George Kendall 20th May '20 - 2:45pm

    Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for the question, and I’m happy to provide an alternative:

    1) Reform of Universal Credit, with an end to the harsh sanctions regime.

    2) A reversal of the punitive cuts to Universal Credit brought in by the Tories since the end of the Coalition.

    3) Measures to steadily simplify the benefits system, but in a careful, deliberative way, so we avoid the chaos that is often brought about by sudden dramatic changes.

    4) In a similar way to how our 2019 manifesto included a £14 billion ‘remain bonus’ by not Brexiting, rather than spend up to £300bn/yr on UBI, instead spend significant sums on improving services with a proven record of improving the lives of people, especially those in less affluent parts of the country.
    This would include:
    – better funding for local authorities, so they can restore youth services, improve social services, and many other priorities
    – better funding for the NHS
    – a major injection of cash into lifelong learning
    – a huge injection of funds into building social housing
    – and many other key areas of public spending
    – (all done with a rigorous, evidence-based, approach of delivering best value for the funding put in)

    Many of these policies were part of the 2019 manifesto. Sadly, we did not spend enough of our limited airtime selling them, and we didn’t do so with sufficient passion or with an overriding narrative that communicated them clearly to most voters.

  • George Kendall 20th May '20 - 2:48pm

    Oh, and I’d be happy for our government to fund a pilot for UBI, to get a clearer UK-perspective on what benefits it might bring, and to improve public debate on the issue.

  • George,

    you are quite right about utopian proposals for UBI. On opinion polls, there has been support for more practical measures for some time. A Gallup poll in the spring of 2019 found 77% support for a UBI initiative in the UK https://news.gallup.com/poll/267143/universal-basic-income-favored-canada-not.aspx
    The question posed was “Do you support a Univeral basic income program as a way to help people who lose their jobs because of advances in artificial intelligence?
    It is important to understand that people use the benefit system at various times to smooth the ups and downs of life and in fact, the great majority of UK citizens will use the system at least in part at some point when in need. Social security should be largely universal just as pensions and healthcare are.
    As John Harrison in his article focuses on the need to build resilience into the system writing “This crisis is likely to be repeated. Covid-19, after all, is just the latest sign of the horrors let loose by human incursion into parts of the natural world. Even once the current disaster is somehow dealt with, the catastrophe of climate change – which itself increases the danger of disease, as tropical illnesses start to threaten new places – will speed on. This latest economic crash arrives only 12 years after the last one. We live, in short, in an age of ongoing shocks, and it is time we began to prepare.”
    My own view is that we need a suite of interlinked policies that combine together to provide this resilience and that is unlikely to be withdrawn by a future government. This would have at its base a subsistence level minimum income guarantee of £77 pw per adult under pension age paid either as a universal credit basic allowance or given as a combined tax and national reducer against income.
    The next level would be means-tested benefits as now for those unable to work plus a full-time job guarantee for those who want to work at minimum wage with a work allowance that was equivalent to net pay from these earnings.
    The third key plank of this policy suite is affordable housing to be delivered by reform of the 1961 land compensation act to allow for public acquisition value of land at existing use value and reform of both business rates and council tax on a land value tax basis.
    These policies combine to provide a level of economic security that is there for everyone throughout their working lives.
    Once the objective is agreed, it then becomes a matter of designing the policy based on the criteria established i.e. either revenue-neutral or with an increased level of funding and/or progressivity.

  • Hi George, you say “Reform of Universal Credit, with an end to the harsh sanctions regime.”

    What do you mean by that? Would you retain sanctions but make them less harsh? Would you end sanctions?

    At the moment most benefits require being means tested and being made subject to compliance. That means a state bureaucrat gets to decide whether you are eligible for a benefit and will impose conditions on how you are allowed to live your life in order to retain access.

    There is no real “safety net”: if the state gets it wrong, or if your personal circumstances don’t make you eligible or able to comply then you receive no state support.

    Contrast this to other services like the police or NHS, none of these means test people or impose compliance beyond what you would expect of a reasonable member of a democratic society. That’s not to say they never discriminate or provide unequal access or treatment, but at least they are by design supposed to provide universal service.

    If you want to look at UBI pilots, the Finnish one has concluded:

    https://julkaisut.valtioneuvosto.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/162219/STM_2020_15_rap.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

    The summary from page 187 is in English, recipients scored higher than the control on qualitative welfare indicators and were employed for an average of 6 days more than the control too. The second result is probably more surprising as one of the main arguments against UBI is that it would discourage employment.

  • I think I now understand the reasoning why many social democrats are sceptical about the UBI:

    They see it as a competitor for a limited government spending allocation, if we support UBI we will have far less room to back increased spending on social democrats’ favoured policies without appearing unacceptably “tax and spend”.

    I think we need to get out of the mindset of the “limited pot” public spending model that seems to pit different sections of society against themselves. I think the “pupil premium” model that has been successful for schools should be used for local government also but Conservative government is only too happy to squeeze areas that are poor but Labour voting.

    Poorer areas need more funding and local government should decide exactly how this money should be spent subject to their own local electorate, that way socially interventionist spending is directed where it is needed and local people have a say in how it is spent.

    It might be politically difficult but I think before you look at UBI you should be looking at things like nationwide free school meals policies, I feel the money spent on such schemes would be better allocated to the provision of local services where they are needed. If local government wanted to use the funds to provide free school meals they could do so.

  • George Kendall 20th May '20 - 5:06pm

    Hi Joe,

    I doubt that poll accurately reflects how people would vote in a general election where UBI was a major issue.

    Putting an argument that supports a proposal into the question is push-polling, and will increase support for the proposal. Also, it doesn’t sound as if the supplementary question on taxes indicated how much the tax rises would be. Those asked may have thought UBI meant an increase in taxes of an average of a couple of hundred per year. They might have reacted very differently if told the tax increases were more like a few thousand a year.

    Then there is the longstanding problem with political polling: that pollsters have found that people tend to say they support more taxes, then vote the opposite way.

    I think we should support some tax increases, despite their unpopularity, but we won’t be able to raise them more than a certain amount. I fear that UBI would use up that extra revenue and more.

    The Compass paper talks about the motivation for rightwingers for supporting UBI:
    “The right, on the other hand, has favoured a basic income as a way of minimising state action in other areas, of offering both a minimum income and freedom of choice about how to spend that income.”
    If we put our political energies and the available tax revenue into UBI, there is a danger that the outcome will be exactly what the rightwingers want and we will be horrified by: that UBI would result in more austerity for other parts of the welfare state.

  • George,

    Isn’t putting an argument that supports a proposal into the question what political parties (rather than polling organisations) do to increase support for a proposal? Isn’t asking for views and listening to voters not what we all need to be doing at local and national level?

    Mark Pack had an article a few years back – Visions of fairness; what the voters say they want. https://www.markpack.org.uk/20981/visions-of-fairness-what-the-voters-say-they-want/
    “A recent YouGov poll for Policy Exchange asked people what values they most want a political party to reflect. “Economic responsibility” came out top with 59% mentioning it and “fairness” was not that far behind on 50%. No other possible value was mentioned by more than a third of people. Amongst Liberal Democrats, fairness was rated even higher. For example, amongst those who voted for the party in May 2010 it just pipped economic responsibility.

    Fairness or equality?
    Fairness scored far better than equality, which got 21% overall and 26% amongst Lib Dem 2010 voters. It also did far better than some of the other values that are particular important to Liberal Democrat members (freedom/liberty – 20% overall, 22% amongst Lib Dem 2010 voters; tolerance and diversity 14% / 22% and environmentalism 11% / 17%). Those findings are a good example of why smart campaigners think not only of what matters to them but also of the evidence as to how best to present that to voters. Values such as tolerance may score low on their own, but present them as features of fairness and the ability to persuade the public is transformed.

    “For both the public and Liberal Democrats, fairness then is important – but more in the sense of equality of opportunity than equality of outcome. ”
    A minimum income guarantee can be introduced on a revenue-neutral basis or with tax increases on the highest earners only. The argument for big increases in taxes across the board is something of a red herring.

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