Why an Unconditional Basic Income (UBI)?

Paying universal transfers acknowledges that every individual has the same unconditional right – to a basic income sufficient for them to live in dignity. The Unconditional Basic Income (UBI) provides this.

With this basic protection in place people are then free to add to that income through paid work if they choose. Equally, they can live on the UBI and pursue other activities – doing the unpaid work of caring for children or others in their community for example, or studying full time, or pursuing new business ventures. The UBI offers the prospect of ensuring everyone has the means to live while giving them the freedom to live their lives as they choose.

What is the alternative to a universal transfer?

The alternative – targeted transfers – involves discriminating between people. Some get more support than others. But on what basis should we discriminate between people? By the number of children they look after perhaps – but what about the number of dependent elderly parents they care for, or the step children that they care for when other parents also provide support? What about those who contribute a lot of time and money to their wider community, or who have high health costs? In practice it is not possible to credibly discriminate between people so many fall through the cracks of targeted transfers. As well, the very process of identifying “the needy” stigmatises people, removes the choices of those who receive help and exacerbates social divisions.

This is what the New Zealand Royal Commission on Social Policy had to say in 1988 about universal and targeted transfers:

“Universalism recognises that we are all members of society… being New Zealanders entitles and engages all of us, whatever our ages or circumstances, and support measures should be rights based. And those eligible for income support should not be subject to unnecessary and stigmatising procedures to establish what is theirs as a basic right.

A system designed only to assist the poor helps perpetuate existing social and economic inequality in the longer run by reinforcing distinctions between the poor and the rest of society, and at the same time it may lock the poor into a cycle of poverty by its system of benefit abatement. A further implication is that a highly targeted system will ultimately face considerable resistance from taxpayers unwilling to support a system perceived as rewarding the improvident and providing themselves with no return for their contributions. The longer run consequences could thus be an even more targeted system that provides continually falling benefit levels.”