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Exit, Voice and Loyalty: Feminism and UBI Nick Pearce

Festival of Ideas
Nick Pearce

Written by Nick Pearce

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Nick Pearce is Director of the Institute for Policy Research and Professor of Public Policy, University of Bath.

This article is part of a series on universal basic income to coincide with the conference ‘Back to Basics: Income for Everyone?’.

Some 45 years ago, the demand for a Universal Basic Income (UBI) was adopted as a policy resolution at the ninth National Women’s Liberation Conference. Activists from the Claimants Unions that had sprung up in the late 1960s and early 1970s pushed the issue of a guaranteed or ‘adequate income without means test for all people’ onto the agenda of the British feminist movement. The story is wonderfully told in this History Workshop article by Prof Toru Yamamori of Doshisha University, Kyoto, Japan.

Feminists have long debated the merits of Universal Basic Income. Those in favour argue that it would de-gender care work and promote women’s economic independence; those against that it would entrench both the domination of capitalist relations of production and gender inequalities in the home, at work and the wider public sphere. These are issues that are being studied in a Research Group set up under the auspices of the Freiburg Institute for Basic Income Studies, on UBI and Gender – which is seeking to ‘capture female voices on the topic of UBI and to include more women in the economic discourse and participation’. Prof Yamamori is a member of this research group.

The wider relationship between the Claimants Unions, the debate on the New Left about the future of work in a post-industrial society, and the revival of interest in basic income in the 1970s is also set out in Peter Sloman’s excellent book, Transfer State.

Meanwhile, interested readers might want to look at a new research article by Pilar Gonalons-Pons and David Calnitsk published in Socio-Economic Review (Volume 20, Issue 3, July 2022) which looks at the impact on relationships within families of the Canadian Manitoba Basic Income Experiment. The Mincome experiment was a three-year ‘guaranteed annual income’ (GAI) study conducted by the Canadian and Manitoba governments in the mid-1970s in which participants were able to access a basic income for a family of four (Mincome was actually a negative income tax for household-level payments but participants had the option of collecting payments independently as single-person households).

Using Albert Hirschman’s famous exit, voice and loyalty framework, the authors ‘study couple separations to determine how the GAI shapes exits, bargaining measures to determine how the GAI shapes voice, and conflict measures to determine how the GAI shapes marital satisfaction and quality.’

The study contributes further to our understanding of how basic or guaranteed incomes have the potential ‘to foster more equitable family lives’. How such policies compare with alternative forms of social security and/or universal free public services is also an important question, and at the IPR, we have also been conducting research over a number of recent years on the impact of Universal Credit on couples. You can read about that research here as well as our new project on Universal Credit here.

We will debate the relationship between UBI, care and work amongst other issues at ‘Back to Basics: Income for Everyone?’, organised in partnership with Bristol Ideas and the Basic Income Forum, taking place 12 October 2022.

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