MP’s are to explore the pros and cons of introducing a new ‘citizen’s income’ across Britain, a radical alternative to the current social security system, it has been announced today.
The Work and Pensions Committee is holding a one-off oral evidence session on citizen’s income, also known as ‘universal basic income’, at the University of Birmingham on 12 January 2017.
A citizen’s income is a non-withdrawable guaranteed minimum income paid by the state to all citizen’s, regardless of wealth or means, and could negate the need for expensive means-testing.
Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee, said: “The idea of a citizen’s income has recently garnered interest in several different countries. In this session the Committee will hope to explore arguments for and against implementing such an initiative in our country’s welfare system.”
Steve McCabe MP, Committee Member, said: “As we consider the implications of Universal Credit and the wider argument for reform of our welfare system, particularly given the changes in our society since its introduction, we should also look at ideas which are not new but may have achieved a new significance in terms of universality as the government tries to reduce means testing and the administrative costs of delivering welfare.
“The concept of a citizen’s income is an idea which merits further consideration in this context.”
Supporters argue a citizen’s income would remove the “stigma” attached to claiming and receiving social security benefits, which in turn could strengthen social cohesion.
Citizen’s income could also remove work disincentives associated with the withdrawal of benefit payments in the current system, reducing poverty and hardship.
Social mobility could also be improved, as people would always have a minimum income to fall back on in the event of unemployment or other financial difficulties.
Public health is another area where a citizen’s income could have a positive impact, as well as reducing the cost of public services in tackling hardship and wide-spread deprivation.
Some countries have already implemented some form of citizen’s income, such as a non-conditional residence-based pension in the Netherlands. The city of Utrecht and the Finnish Social Insurance Institution are both trialling a citizen’s income, set at a relatively high level.
However, opponent’s cite political and practical issues in implementing a citizen’s income in the UK. They claim it would undermine the principle of contribution in the social security system, require higher rates of income tax and weaken work incentives.
There may also be difficulties in setting a minimum income at a sufficient enough level to cover housing costs, childcare and the extra support required by people with disabilities and long-term health conditions. Separate support systems would undermine the citizen’s income’s apparent simplicity, say critics.
In a referendum held earlier this year, voters overwhelmingly rejected proposals for a guaranteed minimum income in Switzerland – 77% to just 23%.
It would undoubtedly be difficult to convince UK voters of the merits of citizen’s income, especially in a climate where the poor and vulnerable are wrongly portrayed as “scroungers” in the media.
Anyone interested in taking part in the Commitee session, should send a brief overview of their background and interest in the topic, including any relevant work, to [email protected] by Friday 2 December 2016.