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Politics & Law Series: Research Spotlight

Book from City researcher explores arguments for universal basic income

Stewart Lansley has co-edited the book It’s Basic Income: The Global Debate

by Ed Grover

A researcher from City, University of London has published a new book that explores the arguments for the introduction of a universal basic income (UBI).

Stewart Lansley, a Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Journalism, co-edited It’s Basic Income: The Global Debate with Amy Downes.

The book brings together a variety of perspectives on UBI, which is an unconditional income for all citizens, guaranteed by the government.

Stewart, who is working on a related research project at City into the potential of citizens’ wealth funds, concludes that UBI could benefit society in several ways.

He said: “Although the case for a UBI has been driven by the promise of greater security for households, it has the potential to create better societies, empowering citizens, boosting social justice and transforming people’s life choices.”

According to It’s Basic Income, a UBI could help to address issues such as growing insecurity associated with the ‘gig economy’ and automation in the workplace, as well as growing economic fragility.

The book also says that although UBI remains controversial, it would offer everyone greater flexibility between work, leisure, education and caring, cut poverty and bring greater financial freedom for women.

Among the contributors is the musician Brian Eno, who argues a basic income is essential to nurture creativity and talent that might otherwise be lost.

Trials cited in the book, in India and Brazil, have addressed concerns that the policy might create a culture of idleness. The pilots instead suggested that the guaranteed income makes people spend wisely, resulting in better family nutrition and schooling.

Other more recent pilots of UBI schemes have also been started in Finland, Canada, the USA, the Netherlands and Uganda.

Citizens’ wealth funds

In Stewart’s 2016 book A Sharing Economy, published by Policy Press, he argues the best way of funding a UBI is through a citizens’ wealth fund.

This is a collectively held fund, socially owned, established initially by the state from the pooling of existing or new resources and used for the wider benefit of society.

The potential of such funds is being explored in the research project at City (with Steve Schifferes and Duncan McCann), which began in 2016 after receiving funding from the Friends Provident Foundation.

The project examines different models for such funds, the case for a British model, how it might be administered, what assets it would be able to draw upon, and the pro-equality impact of such a fund.

The research set out a number of different models, includes an audit of UK public sector assets, the most effective way to deploy them for the public good and how such a fund should be managed.

In addition, the team has carried out several case studies of effective schemes in other countries, and drawn on existing academic and policy research.

A report on the findings of the research will be published in May 2018.

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