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5 July 2022

Brits support universal basic income by 20-point margin

Exclusive: A majority of voters in the UK support a guaranteed monthly income from the state in every region, in both major social classes and in all age groups under 65.

By Ben van der Merwe

Nearly half of all British adults (48 per cent) would support the introduction of a universal basic income (UBI), according to a YouGov poll shared exclusively with the New Statesman.

A UBI would provide every UK resident with a guaranteed monthly income from the state. Unlike existing benefits such as Universal Credit, the payment would be made without means-testing or work requirements. 

A plurality supported the policy in every region, in both major social classes and in all age groups under 65. However, Conservative voters opposed the idea by 43 per cent to 35 per cent, while Leave voters were evenly split.

YouGov found that the policy also has broad support in Italy, Spain and Germany. Support in Germany and Italy was similarly split by party and age, though in Spain it was older age groups that were most supportive.

All groups polled in the UK agreed that a UBI would increase living standards and reduce poverty. However, Conservatives, Leave voters and pensioners expressed concern that the policy would reduce economic growth.

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[See also: This is the moment for Universal Basic Income – here’s how it could work]

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Indeed, the affordability of a UBI was the greatest concern for the general public, with 45 per cent believing that the government would be unable to pay for the policy (against 35 per cent who disagreed).

Last year, parliament’s Work and Pensions Committee advised the government against introducing a UBI, arguing the policy would be “extremely expensive, and would not target support at people who need it most”.

Estimates of the policy’s cost vary widely, owing to disagreement over the suitable level of payment. YouGov’s poll found that a majority of all social classes, age groups and regions in Britain think that a UBI should be enough to live on without any other form of income (54 per cent of all respondents), though a sizeable minority believe it should be set lower and supplemented by employment income or other benefits (41 per cent).

A 2017 study by the Institute for Policy Research examined a range of possible UBI schemes, examining their distributional effects and cost. The authors concluded that “such schemes either have unacceptable distributional consequences or they simply cost too much”.

However, a 2020 study estimated that a UBI could eradicate child and pensioner poverty at a cost of £67bn, similar to the cost of the Covid-19 furlough scheme. The researchers suggested the scheme could be paid for by getting rid of corporate subsidies and tax breaks.

In January this year, a report by the New Economics Foundation called for a mixed system, combining a minimalist UBI with a minimum income guarantee, which it calls a “Living Income”. The system would cost an estimated £137bn, which the think tank suggests could be raised by abolishing the personal tax allowance. It calculated that such a policy could lift 760,000 people out of poverty and boost the average income of the poorest 10 per cent of households by £2,000.

Sam Tims, an economist at the New Economics Foundation told the New Statesman: “Strong and growing support for UBI demonstrates that we are moving away from the austerity-driven consensus of the last decade, the result of which is an inadequate social security system that fails to protect those who need it most. 

“At its core, UBI ensures no one’s income falls below a set level and the concept of a decent minimum income should be welcomed and applied to the welfare state. But we don’t need UBI to begin eradicating poverty and reducing inequality. A ‘Living Income’ would provide a minimum income tied to the cost of living through a means-tested system.”

The poll comes just as the Welsh government begins its trial of a basic income for children leaving care. The scheme, which is set to run until 2025, will see around 500 18-year-olds offered an unconditional income of £19,200 per year for up to two years.

[See also: Why cutting Universal Credit is even worse than you think]

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