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Research Institute urges UK Government to adopt Basic Income

Current welfare systems were not designed to adapt to the challenges presented by automation and globalisation and are not fit for purpose. That's the view of a new paper from the Adam Smith Institute in the UK published to coincide with the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos this week. The institute argues that governments should look to Universal Basic Income (UBI) experiments around the world as they seek to address the risks posed by large-scale changes to the labour market while retaining the benefits of trade and technological progress.

Fresh experiments are being carried out in several countries to test the feasibility of Basic Income and to see how it could be implemented successfully. In Ontario, Canada, the local government is trialling payments to 2,500 people that ensure a minimum income level of at least C$1,320 a month, regardless of employment status. In Finland, 2,000 unemployed people across the country are receiving a universal basic income of €560 a month as part of a two-year trial, with expansion to a further 1,000 for 2-3 years if initial results suggest success. In Silicon Valley, Y Combinator (early backers of AirBnb and Dropbox) are funding a long-term study of 2 to 3 years which will ultimately include up to 3,000 individuals.

Yet UBIs are not just limited to rich western countries, small non-means tested payments systems have been trialled in the developing world. In Uganda, the Belgian charity Eight are funding a two-year project in Fort Portal with payments to 50 households of $18.25 per adult and $9.13 per child each month. While in Kenya, GiveDirectly (backed by Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskowitz) is aiming to pay 6,000 people the equivalent of £18 a month over a 12-year period; while at present the scheme reaches just under 100 people it promises to be the largest Basic Income experiment in history.

The idea of a Universal Basic Income is not a new one. First proposed as far back as 1792 by Thomas Paine, the idea is that government provides a regular modest income without any means-testing. Support comes from across the political spectrum. Thinkers like Hayek and Friedman, Martin Luther King and tech superstars Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg have all advocated the policy, and the UK Labour Party’s Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, supports the principle.

Social Justice Ireland has been a supporter for many years in Ireland. Basic Income Ireland is a group dedicated to having Basic Income adopted in Ireland.

There are very different reasons put forward for implementing a Basic Income. The publication by the Adam Smith Institute is welcome as it articulates a particular understanding. Social Justice Ireland advocates a Basic Income but from a different perspective. These different approaches are issues for discussion as societies seek effective ways of addressing the rapidly changing world of work.

The Adam Smith Institute study may be accessed here.

Social Justice Ireland’s 2016 Social Policy Conference (which took place at Croke Park on November 22nd) centred around the topic of basic income in Ireland and throughout Europe. It was titled Basic Income: Radical Utopia or Practical Solution? and explored current thinking about Basic Income in both the global and Irish contexts. The conference was chaired by Michael Clifford of the Irish ExaminerVideos of all the presentations, and discussions on that day together with the texts of all the papers presented may be accessed here.