Workers must be protected if a universal basic income (UBI) is implemented in the future Unite has warned, following a report welcomed by Labour that recommends every UK adult be paid an unconditional weekly sum.
The SOAS University report said the costs of a UBI – a baseline income paid to everyone regardless of employment status designed to reduce inequality and poverty – could be covered by axing more than 1,000 tax reliefs.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell, who commissioned the study, welcomed the report and said the Labour Party would consider the the report’s recommendations for their next manifesto.
The report’s author, professor Guy Standing, told the BBC, “A basic income would be paid in cash, a moderate amount, a basic amount unconditionally to each individual man and woman equally, a smaller amount for a child and the good thing is it would be unconditional and it wouldn’t be means tested and it would be a right, an economic right.”
Standing explained that the initial amount would total £48 a week, but would change as funding for the policy was bolstered over time.
Standing added, “Now £48 is not a lot for most people but for a lot of people out there they have £20 left at the end of the week after they’ve paid their rent and their food, so this is a significant amount for many people.”
Shadow chancellor McDonnell said the report is an “important contribution to the debate around inequality, austerity, poverty and how we establish a fair and just economic system”.
“There have been pilots of ‘basic income’ elsewhere and Guy Standing has looked at them and come forward with proposals,” McDonnell said.
“Whatever mechanism we use, whether ‘basic income’ or another, we have to lead in developing a radical mechanism aimed at eradicating poverty, but also means testing.
“We will be studying the contents and recommendations of this report carefully as we put together our reform policies for the next Labour government.”
Unite executive officer Sharon Graham said the union would support a UBI that is used as “a floor which sets a living standard that nobody should fall below”.
“However, we cannot let some employers attempt to hi-jack the UBI as a way to cut jobs and wash their hands of responsibility as a result of the latest wave of automation known as Industry 4.0,” said Graham.
“Work must remain a central pillar of society and we need to look at solutions as opposed to just paying a benefit to those out of work. Automation should deliver better jobs. We have got to demand shorter working weeks and better retirements.”