British Voters Support UBI (But don’t want to pay for it)

The first independent, UK-specific opinion poll on UBI (Universal Basic Income) that I have seen, shows that a plurality of voters would support its introduction, with 48% “in favour” and just 25% against. However, there’s a catch: the degree of support drops sharply, when asked whether they would be prepared to pay for it, either by way of increases in tax, or by cuts to existing welfare programs.

The research was conducted by Ipsos Mori and the Institute of Policy Research at the University of Bath. by the Institute of Policy Research at the University of Bath. The university’s Dr Luke Martinelli describes the result as “surprising”, as there has been so little public debate about the idea until very recently.

There’s little point in paying too much attention to the detailed numbers. Voters are not really able to make an informed opinion without more information. The degree of support or opposition would likely change, depending on the proposed level of UBI payment proposed, and the associated cost.  However, the mere fact that a substantial proportion of voters have expressed for the idea in principle, shows that this is an idea that merits further serious debate.

Further debate, and research, is needed. We need greater definition of just what is meant by “basic” income. Would in include housing costs? Who would qualify – all citizens, or adults only? If children also qualify, at what level? What existing benefits would it replace? What would it cost?

To estimate the cost, we need to know more about how potential recipients would respond. Would a significant number of people simply choose not to work, so reducing the government tax take, as some opponents fear? Or would the removal of the existing disincentive for benefit claimants to find part-time work, lead to more people supplementing their basic income payments with part-time work, or risk-taking in setting up new businesses? Supporters argue that this could expand the economy and the tax take – making the project affordable.

Fortunately, the work has begun. There have been a number of experiments and research studies already, in many parts of the world (in both rich and poor countries). The SNP government in Scotland recently announced its own plans for an investigation. Politically, the Green Party has incorporated the principle or a UBI in its formal policy platform. It is time for other parties to join the debate.

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