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Is It Time for Universal Basic Income?

Festival of Ideas
Is It Time for Universal Basic Income

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Leading thinkers, politicians and policymakers will come together to debate and explore new approaches to macro-economic policymaking, the prospects for Universal Basic Income, and the political economy of social and economic change.

In recent years, interest in Universal Basic Income (UBI) has grown around the world. UBI is an unconditional income paid to every individual. It is a payment that is not means-tested or made conditional on work-status. Advocates of UBI argue that it represents a fair, simple and efficient way of supporting individuals, in contrast to the complexity and intrusiveness of existing welfare states. Many also argue that automation and the rise of precarious work make a UBI necessary to replace or supplement wage labour.

The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown these issues into sharp relief, as governments around the world have scrambled to close gaps in social safety nets and prevent people falling into poverty. At the same time, treasuries and central banks have mobilised the full range of fiscal and monetary policies to prevent lockdowns tipping economies into deep recessions. State intervention in the economy has expanded, while ideological support for austerity has sharply receded. Arguments about whether a UBI is affordable are being made in a dramatically changed intellectual and political context.

Experiments with UBI schemes or pilots have multiplied in towns, cities and countries across the globe. Coalitions of city and state leaders supporting UBI have sprung up, and many more political parties, in the UK and elsewhere, now include commitments to UBI in their manifestos. In contrast, supporters of increased investment in existing welfare states and universal public services argue that UBI is an expensive distraction that delivers little bang for the buck. Prospects for a fully-fledged UBI, covering whole populations, still appear remote.

On Wednesday 6 October 2021, the Institute for Policy Research, University of Bath, and Bristol Ideas are running their second virtual conference, ‘Is it time for UBI?’. The conference is free to attend.

Speakers include: Kate Bell (TUC), Young Jun Choi (Yonsei University), Anna Coote (New Economics Foundation), Diane Coyle (University of Cambridge), Geoff Crocker (author of Basic Income and Sovereign Money), Sarath Davala (Indian Network for Basic Income), Anna Dent (policy and research consultant), S Mahendra Dev (Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research), Martin Ford (author of Rule of the Robots), Cleo Goodman (Basic Income Conversation), Paul Mason, Jane Millar (University of Bath), Bernhard Neumärker (University of Freiburg), Thomas Palley, Nick Pearce (Institute for Policy Research, University of Bath), James Plunkett (author of End State), Sumbul Siddiqui (Mayor of Cambridge, Massachusetts), Kate Soper (London Metropolitan University / University of Brighton) and Paola Subacchi (Queen Mary University of London).

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The programme

09:30 – 09:40 Welcome
Nick Pearce introduces the day, the themes to be covered and the speakers.

09:40 – 10:10 Will Artificial Intelligence Transform Everything?

Diane Coyle and Martin Ford debate the impact of artificial intelligence on life, work and the economy.

10:10 – 10:40 Will Technological Change Make UBI Inevitable?

Many economists argue that technology is reducing wages and income from work. Others believe that automation and the Fourth Industrial Revolution will inexorably reduce the demand for the labour. If we can’t get an adequate income from employment, do we need UBI to maintain incomes in technologically advanced societies? With Kate Bell and Anna Dent. Chaired by Gavin Kelly.

10:40 – 10:50 Break

10:50 – 11:50 Will UBI Help Create Greater Wellbeing and a Greener World?

As societies get richer, we need to work less. As societies get greener, we need to consume less. Can UBI help us become happier, with more time for leisure and family life, and less time spent at work and in the shops? With Anna Coote and James Plunkett. Chaired by Andrew Kelly.

11:50 – 12:00 Update from host

12:00 – 12:50 Break

12:50 – 13:00 Welcome back

13:00 – 14:00 How Do We Build a New Welfare State After COVID-19?
The pandemic has had a fundamental impact on lives, work and economies. Welfare states around the world have faced huge challenges. What have the lessons been in the UK and internationally? And is it time for a radical renewal with UBI? With Young Jun Choi, Sarath Davala, S Mahendra Dev and Cleo Goodman. Chaired by Jane Millar.

14:00 – 14:20 Comments from Mayor Sumbal Siddiqui
Mayor Siddiqui (Cambridge, Mass) looks at the need for a guaranteed income for the people of her city; the pilot currently underway; how this links to other pilot programmes in the Mayors for a Guaranteed Income initiative; and how success will be measured.

14:20 – 14:30 Break

14:30 – 15:30 What is the Relationship Between UBI and Monetary and Fiscal Policy?

The Covid pandemic has seen governments spending big to keep households afloat and to prevent mass unemployment. Central Banks have injected trillions to prevent the global economy from sinking into depression. If we can afford to tackle the Covid crisis, why can’t we afford a UBI? Can we issue Sovereign Money, that doesn’t have to be financed by government debt? And does the era of digital Central Bank currencies mean that we can pay individuals a UBI directly, into digital wallets or accounts? With Bernhard Neumärker and Thomas Palley. Chaired by Paola Subacchi.

15:30 – 15:40 Break

15:40 – 16:00 Summary from Geoff Crocker

Geoff Crocker provides a summary of the day so far and thoughts for the final panel.

16:00 – 17:00 Is Basic Income the Right Response to Future Needs?

The day has raised many issues for debate. What is wrong with our welfare state and what can we do to fix it? Is UBI an answer, or hopelessly unrealistic? UBI vs reformed welfare states and better public services – is there a trade off? With Andrew Fisher, Clare McNeil, Paul Mason and Kate Soper. Chaired by Neal Lawson.

17:00 – 17:10 Closing remarks

The first ‘Is it time for UBI?’ conference was held in October 2020. You can see the recordings here.

In association with


Kate Bell is the Head of the Rights, International, Social and Economics department. The department leads the TUC’s work on boosting employment rights, promoting social and economic policies that benefit working people, and building international solidarity. Before joining the TUC, she worked as Head of Policy and Public Affairs for a local authority, for the Labour Party, and for the charities Child Poverty Action Group and Gingerbread. She is also a member of the Low Pay Commission, representing workers.

Young Jun Choi is Professor, Department of Public Administration, and Director of the Institute for Welfare State Research, Yonsei University in South Korea. He also serves as Chair of East Asian Social Policy Research Network. His research interests include aging and public policy, social investment policy, comparative welfare state theories, and East Asian social policy. He has published many articles in international journals and his recent books include Welfare Reform and Social Investment Policy in Europe and East Asia (Policy Press, 2021).

Anna Coote is a Principal Fellow at the New Economics Foundation and Project Director at The Social Guarantee. A leading analyst, writer and advocate in the field of social policy, she has written widely on social justice, sustainable development, working time, public health policy, public involvement and democratic dialogue, gender and equality. Earlier posts include Director of Health Policy at the King’s Fund, Deputy Director of the Institute for Public Policy Research, Editor of current affairs television at Diverse Productions and Deputy Editor of the New Statesman. She was Commissioner for Health with the UK Sustainable Development Commission from 2000 to 2009. Her recent publications (with sole or co-authorship) include The Case for a Four Day Week (Polity Press: 2020), The Case for Universal Basic Services (Polity Press: 2020) and Universal Basic Income: A Union Perspective (PSI: 2019).

Diane Coyle is the Bennett Professor of Public Policy at the University of Cambridge. She co-directs the Bennett Institute for Public Policy where she heads research under the themes of progress and productivity. She is also a director of the Productivity Institute, a Fellow of the Office for National Statistics, an expert adviser to the National Infrastructure Commission, and Senior Independent Member of the ESRC Council. She has served in public service roles including as Vice Chair of the BBC Trust, member of the Competition Commission, of the Migration Advisory Committee and of the Natural Capital Committee. She was Professor of Economics at the University of Manchester until March 2018 and was awarded a CBE for her contribution to the public understanding of economics in the 2018 New Year Honours. Her latest book is Cogs and Monsters: What Economics Is, and What It Should Be.

Geoff Crocker is editor of Basic Income Forum and author of Basic Income and Sovereign Money, An Enlightened Philosophy and A Managerial Philosophy of Technology.

Sarath Davala is an Indian sociologist, and is currently the President of Basic Income Earth Network, a global network promoting conversation about basic income across the world. He co-founded India Network for Basic Income and Mission Possible 2030, both organisations working on basic income related issues. From 1993 to 2000, he was an Associate Professor at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore. Between 2010 and 2014, he was the Research Director of the Madhya Pradesh Basic Income Pilot Project. He is the co-author of Basic Income: A Transformative Policy for India. He is currently leading another basic income pilot with waste collectors in Hyderabad, India, a project initiated by University of Bath.

Anna Dent is an independent policy consultant, researcher and writer, with a focus on good work and the future of work, welfare reform, basic income and ethical issues around technology, work and unemployment. She is a fellow of the RSA, associate of Autonomy and Rocket Science, and co-founded the Tech and Social Justice Meet-up with Rachel Coldicutt. She has produced work for IPPR, Institute for the Future of Work, RSA and Nesta, among many others.

S Mahendra Dev has been the Director and Vice Chancellor of the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research (IGIDR) in Mumbai, India since 2010. Prior to this position, he was Chairman of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices, Ministry of Agriculture from 2008 to 2010. He is Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees of International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Washington, DC. He was also a member of the Board of IFPRI for seven years from 2013 to 2019. He was member and Acting Chairman of the National Statistical Commission, Government of India. He got the prestigious Malcolm Adisesaiah Award in 2016. He was Director, Centre for Economic and Social Studies, Hyderabad, India for 9 years from 1999 to 2008.

Andrew Fisher has worked on social security policy for nearly 20 years as a parliamentary researcher, trade union official and most recently as the Labour party’s Executive Director of Policy from 2016 to 2019. He was brought up on social security in a working lone parent family. He now works as a freelance policy consultant and media commentator, including writing for outlets such as the Guardian and i.

Martin Ford is a leading expert on artificial intelligence, the robotics revolution, job automation, and the impact of accelerating technology on workplaces, the economy and society. He is a futurist and the author of a number of books: Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future (winner of the Financial Times/McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award and translated into more than 20 languages); Architects of Intelligence: The Truth about AI From the People Building It, The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future and, most recently, Rule of the Robots: How Artificial Intelligence Will Transform Everything. He is also the founder of a Silicon Valley-based software development firm.

Cleo Goodman is co-founder of the Basic Income Conversation, an organisation dedicated to increasing and improving the debate around basic income in the UK. She leads the Basic Income Conversation’s activities through their Research Network, work with civil society and political engagement. Her background is in the Scottish third sector and she is particularly interested in exploring community-led and locally-funded basic income models and demonstrations.

Andrew Kelly is Director of Bristol Ideas. His projects include At-Bristol (now We The Curious), Bristol Legible City, Brunel200, Bristol800 and the annual Bristol Great Reading Adventure. In 2014 he directed Bristol’s programme marking 100 years since the start of the First World War, the largest UK programme of its kind outside London. He is a Visiting Professor at the University of the West of England and has published 15 books on issues ranging from film and cinema history to Brunel and engineering, the future of cities and 100 years of Bristol aerospace.

Neal Lawson is a British political commentator and organiser. He is Director of Compass, and has been helping to lead the think tank since its formation in 2003. He is more focused than ever on how to make big transformative change happen, and focuses on their strategy, relationships and funding.

Paul Mason is a journalist, writer and film-maker. He is the author of several books, including Postcapitalism (2015), Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere (2012), Clear Bright Future (2019); Rare Earth: A Novel (2011); and How To Stop Fascism: History, Ideology, Resistance (2021).He was the Economics Editor at both BBC Newsnight (2001-13) and Channel 4 News (2013-16), and won numerous awards, including RTS Specialist Reporter of the Year and the Wincott Award. He writes a weekly column for the New Statesman, and contributes to the Guardian, Freitag and Le Monde Diplomatique.

Jane Millar is Professor Emeritus of Social Policy at the University of Bath and a leading scholar on the design, implementation and impact of social policy, particularly family policy, social security and employment policy, with particular reference to gender and changing family patterns. She is Trustee of the British Academy and of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), and Chair of the Social Sciences Panel for REF2021.Prior to this, she was elected as a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences (2000) and as a Fellow of the British Academy (2014); a Special Adviser to the House of Commons Select Committee for Work and Pensions (2004 and 2007) and to the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee (2020); Chair of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Grants Assessment Panel C (2016-2020) and Chair of the Social Policy Association (SPA) (2016-2019).

Bernhard Neumärker is Professor of Economics (in particular Economic Policy) and Director of the Department for Economic Policy and Constitutional Economic Theory at the University of Freiburg.

Thomas Palley is an independent economist and author living in Washington, DC. He is a founder and co-editor of the Review of Keynesian Economics. Most recently, he was Senior Economic Policy Adviser to the AFL-CIO. In the past, he has held positions as Chief Economist with the US–China Economic and Security Review Commission, Director of the Open Society Institute’s Globalization Reform Project, and Assistant Director of Public Policy at the AFL-CIO. His books include From Financial Crisis to Stagnation: The Destruction of Shared Prosperity and the Role of Economics (2012) and Plenty of Nothing: The Downsizing of the American Dream and the Case for Structural Keynesianism (1998). His latest book is Neoliberalism and the Road to Inequality and Stagnation: A Chronicle Foretold (2021).

Nick Pearce is Professor of Public Policy and Director of the Institute for Policy Research (IPR) at the University of Bath. He has extensive experience in policy research and government policymaking and writes on a wide range of issues, from contemporary British politics, public service and welfare state reform, to Britain’s place in the world. His recent publications include Britain Beyond Brexit and Shadows of Empire: The Anglosphere in British Politics. He is currently Subject Editor of Science, Society and Policy, Royal Society Open Science, published by The Royal Society. Before joining the university, he was the Director of Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), and between 2008 and 2010, Head of the No10 Downing St Policy Unit, with responsibility for the formulation of policy advice to the Prime Minister. He led and managed the work of the Prime Minister’s 13 policy advisers. He is currently Chair of Trustees at both Tavistock Relationships and the Early Intervention Foundation. He serves on the governing committee of the Youth Endowment Fund and on the advisory boards of the Cambridge Centre for Science and Policy and the Wales Centre for Public Policy. He is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Institution of British Architects.

James Plunkett has worked for over a decade at the heart of public policy, exploring how to solve society’s thorniest problems. In the late 2000s, he was working at 10 Downing Street when the full scale of the digital revolution started to make itself felt. He has since spent ten years grappling with the social ramifications of economic change, from leading influential studies into the gig economy and prosperity, to overseeing technology at one of the UK’s biggest charities. His new book is End State: 9 Ways Society is Broken and How We Fix It.

Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui is currently serving her second term on the Cambridge City Council, and first as Mayor of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Throughout her time as a public servant, she has advocated on behalf of the city’s most vulnerable, strived to create more affordable housing, and protect households under threat of displacement from facing eviction and homelessness. As Mayor, she continues to promote affordable housing and address the region’s broader affordability crisis. Since becoming Mayor, she has worked on preserving the City’s existing expiring-use affordable housing at the Fresh Pond Apartments and has worked alongside the City Manager in leading the Cambridge community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kate Soper is Emerita Professor of Philosophy and a former researcher with the Institute for the Study of European Transformations at London Metropolitan University. She has published widely on theory of need and consumption, feminism, green politics and environmental philosophy. She was lead researcher in the research project on ‘Alternative Hedonism, and the theory and politics of consumption’ funded in the ESRC/AHRC Cultures of Consumption project, 2004-6. Most recently, she has been involved in a number of research projects on climate change and sustainable consumption, most recently as a Visiting Fellow at the Pufendorf Institute, Lund University, Sweden. She is the author of Post-Growth Living: for an Alternative Hedonism (2020).

Paola Subacchi is Professor of International Economics and Chair of the Advisory Board, Global Policy Institute, Queen Mary University of London, and a Visiting Professor at the University of Bologna; she also holds a number of non-executive directorships. She writes regularly on Project Syndicate. Her research focuses on the functioning and governance of the international financial and monetary system. Her latest book is The Cost of Free Money. How Unfettered Capital Threatens our Economic Future (2020).

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