Call it 'the gift of leaving'
Universal Basic Income is not just be a sensible policy, but the saviour to the Conservative party's current political crisis
6 September 2019
Call it 'the Gift of Leaving'
The time is perfect to announce Universal Basic Income in the UK
Universal Basic Income (UBI) is not a traditionally conservative policy. It is simply the case that the political opportunism available from announcing UBI, at this moment, with this government, is too enticing to miss. UBI, the unconditional monthly pay-out to every citizen’s savings account, indiscriminate of wealth, public contribution, or social situation, obviously does not come easy to the conservative mindset – superficially it appears neither efficient nor equitable. Yet combined with the reduction in other state services, UBI could be described as the most libertarian scheme possible. Furthermore, with a deal in tangible touching distance and a general election campaign in all but name, the government has an unrivalled opportunity to reap popularity through the revival of national spirit, earn it permanent sparring points against the opposition on every single issue, and justify Brexit in the eyes of the people, a goal which it has so far evidently failed.
From a libertarian perspective, UBI is empowering to the individual citizen. The policy would replace an increasingly unmanageable raft of public benefit schemes that are contentious, expensive, and difficult to administrate. Gone would be benefits, a vital crux to those in need but burdensome in state bureaucracy, rife with fraud, and too often conducive to a poverty trap; UBI renders them obsolete. Similarly with Jobseeker’s Allowance, which provides a negative incentive to be between, rather than in, employment; UBI offers job-seeking freedom to find one’s industry of speciality. Other expensive schemes, such as child benefits, cold weather payments, free school meals, cold-weather payments, and energy subsidies could be rolled back if so desired; UBI facilitates the political capital necessary for this by providing a minimum level of financial capability, affording each individual the benefit of these schemes but purchased for themselves. The principle is akin to a more efficient form of pensions, in itself could be a policy rolled back by UBI’s implementation, which can be considered a basic income for the retired. Each may manage their personal spending to how they best see fit and should they get it wrong, an escape to the poverty trap and debt cycle is provided by means of the next month’s cash injection Reducing existing state services offsets the cost of UBI (UBI: The Costs, September 13th, 2019); the resulting small-government, indiscriminate, inclusive scheme is far more efficient than existing services and far more individually empowering.
The direct political benefits of the policy to the administration should be a greater lure to lawmakers. After months of negative campaigning from the May deal ‘betraying the will of the people’ to the negative economic forecasts of No-Deal, the question on every voter’s lips is ‘What was the point?’ Brexit has almost been achieved, yet every near-future projection suggests a poorer country; widespread disaffection brews. The Brexit campaign promised a flourishing UK under its own sovereignty. UBI finally makes true on this promise. The first consequence is a surge in national pride. The sentiment of being ‘proud to be British’ arises once more when living in the only nation in the world that can claim itself as ‘prosperous and civilised enough’ to pay out a salary merely for being a citizen. This payment is indiscriminate between social classes, and Leavers and Remainers; it is a rare example of an un-divisive policy. It would be viewed favourably on the campaign trail and in the international community – the UK could regain a moralistic stance over its partners in the EU and possess greater leverage in trade deals on the question of immigration. The government’s reputation would be improved amongst all interest groups.
Secondly, UBI offers the ultimate defence mechanism in the Commons against Labour accusations. Questioned on the issue of homelessness, the PM can retort that the government has already hit the height of generosity with its monthly handout for the mere status of being a citizen, what more is there to be done? On the issue of higher transport prices or increasing energy costs, the government can claim each citizen’s pocket now holds more money, thanks to its own initiative. A lack of investment in research and entrepreneurship can be combatted with the political freedom afforded by financial security. Questions of social mobility are belayed by the argument on equality of opportunity. The moral responsibility to achieve affluence is further shifted from state to individual within the public debate; an expectation is engineered that each individual should responsibly use their monthly provision; should they fail, the onus in on them. The PM can gain easy talking points throughout the upcoming election campaign whilst stifling those of the opposition. Of all the chancellor’s spending announcements over the past two weeks; UBI would be unrivalled in capturing the favour of the public. Furthermore, economists theorise the positive benefit made by UBI in actually solving many of these issues, further than providing debate arguments against them. If so, (UBI: The Arguments, September 13th, 2019) the government could contribute too to its secondary goal past improving its Commons electability, actually helping people.
Thirdly, the policy is as an easy victory in its passage through parliament and generate a means of justification for the pro-Brexit administration. The government can call it a ‘Leaving EU dividend’ and claim that the money is financed through the cessation of payments to Brussels, a 'leaving gift' for citizens of this country. It can fast-track the bill through the Commons and even claim it’s made possible by sovereignty previously unavailable. The parliamentary arithmetic aligns in favour too. In addition to a whipped vote among the Tory party members, the bill would see easy favour among opposition members; rejecting a proposal of offer free money to the thousands in poverty the Labour Party seeks to represent is not in their interest. The Liberal Democrats would vote in favour on principle; UBI offers economic freedom and equality of opportunity. Trials of UBI in Edinburgh and Glasgow are indicative of the SNP’s support. Votes in favour could easily total the additional 40 members required to reach a majority.
With the ‘What next after Brexit’ question so dangerously close, UBI offers unrivalled positive impacts for this administration, at this critical time. It is very rare that a policy actually beneficial to the public can be so beneficial to the politicians implementing it too - such an occasion should be seized. So far the UK’s exit from the European has exchanged strength and stability for elusive promises of self-determined change and half-hearted national pride. The government can make vagaries a reality by daring to take the Basic Income leap. ∎
For a more in-depth analysis of the fundamental arguments of UBI as a policy, consider reading:
- The Positive Freedom Dividend (September 12th, 2019)
- UBI: The Arguments (September 13th, 2019)
- UBI: The Costs (September 13th, 2019)