Universal income is a policy idea that has both left and right-wing credentials. Photo: Getty
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A citizen's income of £71 a week per person would make Britain fairer

With the potential to appease both the left and the right of the political spectrum, the citizen’s income concept could well mark the road to a fairer, more equal welfare system in Britain.

What would you do with an extra £71 per week? That’s the question posed by The Citizen’s Income Trust, an organisation that promotes debate on the concept of a universal income for Britain, with citizenship as the only basis of entitlement.

The Trust proposes a radical reform of the national welfare system, suggesting the annual spend on benefits should be distributed equally among all citizens, regardless of their income or employment status. Under their proposals, 0-24 year olds would receive £56.25 per week, 25-64 year olds would receive £71 per week and those 65 and over would receive £142.70 per week.

Analysing figures from the 2012-13 financial year, the cost of such a scheme is projected at around £276bn per year – just £1bn more than the annual welfare budget that year –making the implementation of a citizen’s income close to revenue and cost neutral.

Disability and housing benefits would remain intact, but the scheme would replace all other benefits including child benefits, income support and jobseeker’s allowance, national insurance and state pensions. Included in the current annual spend figures is £8bn in Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) administration and £2bn in HMRC tax credit administration and write-offs.

A common objection to universal income is its potential to deter a population from working by creating a “money-for-nothing” culture. But in a 1970s pilot study called Mincome in Canada, establishing a citizen’s income didn’t produce a workshy population. In fact, the only people who stopped working or worked less were young mothers, teenagers in education and those due to retire soon.

Taking the Trust’s figures, it also appears unlikely that £3,692 per year would dissuade people from working or replace income from employment. Rather, it would prevent the poorest sections of society falling into dependency on state welfare and being discouraged from entering paid employment for fear of losing benefit entitlements. This welfare trap would be eliminated; a citizen’s income would be paid, tax-free, regardless of an individual’s working status or income level.

In this way, a citizen’s income has the potential to lead to a more equal and meritocratic society. Debates around reducing weekly working hours have been circulating for some time, and citizen’s income could aid this. For a person who currently works 40 hours per week at minimum wage, a £71 per week citizen’s income would facilitate a reduction of around 10 working hours.

A citizen’s income also helps compensate for people’s non-financial contributions in a society and culture such as caring for children or elderly parents, undertaking voluntary work or pursuing hobbies and creative interests. Given the safety net of a small guaranteed income, there’s more room for career changes, education and enterprise projects too.

With no need to prove entitlement in order to claim a citizen’s income, benefit fraud would be abolished and government bureaucracy reduced as the need for DWP administrators became significantly lower. No more invasive checks on an individual’s circumstances and no more stigmatisation of claimants; no need to spend money on chasing and punishing “benefit fraudsters”.

The Swiss are due to vote in a referendum on citizen’s income this year, while here in the UK, Green party leader Natalie Bennett has announced the policy will feature prominently in her party’s 2015 election manifesto. With the potential to appease both the left and the right of the political spectrum, the citizen’s income concept could well mark the road to a fairer, more equal welfare system in Britain.

Lauren Razavi tweets @LaurenRazavi

Lauren Razavi is a freelance columnist and features writer. Follow her on Twitter @LaurenRazavi.

Photo: Getty
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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.