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Could UBI Help People Build Fulfilling Lives? Naomi Miller

Festival of Ideas
Naomi Miller

Written by Naomi Miller

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Naomi Miller (Acting Director, Bristol Ideas) introduces our third joint conference with the University of Bath Institute for Policy Research (IPR) on Universal Basic Income.

Too many people live precarious lives and have precarious work.

Our benefits system is inadequate. The social care crisis means many families have to live with lower income to care for elderly parents at the same time as trying to help their children. A broken childcare system is seeing nursery workers leaving for higher wages elsewhere. And the high cost of childcare means that parents – often mothers – have to leave their jobs to look after children.

Social mobility has stalled. Young people paying off huge student loans and excessive costs just to put a roof over their heads may consider saving for a pension seemingly irrelevant. Some people are stuck in jobs they dislike – even hate – but can’t move on.

Would a universal basic income (UBI) be one way of helping all? Could it provide an income floor to allow people to live lives with purpose? 

There is interest in and campaigns for UBI around the world. There’s a growing evidence base about its need, its suitability for the times we live in, and how it might meet the future challenges we face. A basic income, it’s argued, could help people live more sustainable lives and create a better planet.

Some political parties here – such as the Green Party, Scottish National Party and Liberal Democrats – have made this a manifesto commitment. Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, recently called for Labour to guarantee ‘every citizen of this country [has] the basics…I don’t see how you can have a more equal country without those things.’

Pilots using different models of basic or guaranteed income are underway around the world – from the US Mayors for a Guaranteed Income to, most recently, the Irish pilot for artists and the Welsh pilot which builds on the devolved authority’s impressive work in considering and planning for future generations in all new policy.

But there are also huge questions. Is a universal approach the way forward or is targeted support better? How can we make the welfare system work better? Should we aim for universal basic services rather than UBI? How much should it be and is that affordable?  Would it stop people working? Would a four-day week be better? Can capitalism reinvent itself to meet the fears of huge job losses expected from automation to provide good and well-paid work in the future? How can the project and ideas be debated and shared more widely?

It’s said that a UBI might be this generation’s welfare state. In a linked event we look at what a Beveridge report might say today as part of this debate. Beveridge wanted to find solutions to the five giants of idleness, ignorance, disease, squalor and want. These giants have been alleviated but not solved. And we face new giants on top of the five. How would a new Beveridge solve the social care crisis, ensure that work is meaningful and secure and not precarious? How would it deal with the climate crisis? How would it give a future to people? Is UBI one of the solutions?

Do join us as we explore these debates, which are free to all thanks to support from partners. You can also watch back the arguments for and against that were made in our previous conferences.

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