41% of Britons Back Basic Income

Westminster

The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) has commissioned a survey into public sentiment around basic income.

The headline finding of the survey, in which 2,070 people were polled by Populus, weas that 41% of people support the idea, compared to just 17% being opposed to it.

The RSA defines basic income as “a regular, unconditional payment made to every adult and child. It is not dependent on other earned or unearned income, is not means-tested and is not withdrawn as earnings rise”. The idea is that it would replace the current universal credit system being operated by the Department of Work and Pensions.

Anthony Painter, director of the RSA’s action and research centre, said that “the universal credit experiment is failing on its own terms, while the wider welfare state is riddled with complexities and underpinned by draconian sanctions. By contrast, our poll shows that in an era of widespread economic insecurity, policymakers have the public’s support to start exploring innovative alternatives to today’s failing and unpopular welfare system.”

Several countries around the world have already trialled a basic income system including Kenya, Uganda, the Netherlands and Italy. Scotland also is considering trialling basic income in four cities. These trials explore whether the system reduces poverty and reliance on other forms of benefits and have support from the Labour party in the UK. John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor recently declared that Labour’s manifesto for the next general election would promise a universal basic income.

However, one trial conducted by Ontario in Canada has been inconclusively scrapped by the city’s new government, and the Finnish government has also decided not to trial the system after a two-year trial.

The Department of Work and Pensions came out vehemently opposed to the idea of basic income, with a spokesperson for the group saying that “a universal basic income would not work for those who need more support, such as disabled people and those with caring responsibilities.”

They went on the defend the current universal credit system, declaring that “We currently spend £90 billion a year on welfare support tailored to the needs of individuals, which means more help is getting to the people who need it most. It’s reasonable for people to meet certain requirements to receive their universal credit payment and these are agreed with people in advance – sanctions are only used in the minority of cases when someone doesn’t meet these requirements without a good reason.”

The Populus poll found that ten times as many people (54%) backed the idea of a welfare state supporting the poorest and most vulnerable in society, compared to thought the government should be “stepping out of the way so people can stand on their own two feet” (5%).

Additionally, almost half of the respondents (49%) thought that receiving a basic income could potentially diminish the stigma around receiving benefits. The poll also revealed that the public’s greatest concern over the system would be its affordability with 45% of those polled saying that they were worried that a universal basic income would be “unaffordable”.

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