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So Sentinel News have a post doubting the idea of a Universal Basic Income, consisting of questions the author thinks you should ask of anyone who proposes it. The author asserts that people "are using Universal Basic Income (UBI) as a euphemism for their lack of understanding of welfare, the labour market, and the economy." But the questions she proposes can be asked to varying degrees about any proposed change to our current welfare system, and her comments under those headings pre-suppose that the UBI is intended to be a magical panacea. I've not met anyone who thinks that it would be a complete solution to the problems with our current system (though I'm willing to belive that such people exist, and that she's had to deal with them, because there are idiots everywhere). The real world is complicated, and full of people who are not only complicated, but also imperfect, and all different from one another in both their complexities and imperfections. You can't have a panacea for societal problems, except perhaps in the very smallest groups (though even there I suspect someone will feel hard-done-by).

Do I want a UBI? Well, I want to massively overhaul the current system to make it easier for people to get what they need (fraud is largely a non-problem, despite what some will claim), and to provide better support for those who need more - or different - than just the basics[1]. It could also stand a good deal of simplification, given how mind-bendingly difficult to understand the current arrangements are. A universal basic income could certainly be a part of such an improved-and-simplified system. Is it the best basis to work from in building one? I don't know. But it could certainly be made to work, which is as much as can be said for any other proposal I've seen.

[1] note of personal interest: my partner and I are both disabled, and need extra support because of that. Neither of us is ever likely to be able to work again. I have a very strong personal interest in ensuring a working welfare state.

However, lets go through the questions and supply some answers:

1. Housing Benefit

[T]he Housing Benefit system is still more or less holding together after 70 years, precisely because it can respond to the local housing market and is calculated according to changing local rents. How will a nationally set UBI do this? Or will another benefit system be required for housing costs? The Housing Benefit system acts as an early warning of an overheating housing market; how will UBI replicate this?

Yes, there will need to be a housing-allowance top-up. A universal basic income would replace JSA and the equivalent amount of ESA, providing everyone with enough cash to cover basic expenses like food and heating. It would then need topping up to provide housing, disability assistance (including care cover), and so on.

2. Motherhood Pay and 3. Childcare

The motherhood pay penalty is linked to the labour market and changes constantly. Our benefits system responds to this by calculating tax credits according to wages, sometimes with Housing Benefit on top. This is directly linked to a changing economy. How will your UBI model do this?

When the Tories cut childcare allowances to 70 percent of childcare costs, it pushed thousands of women out of work. How will UBI respond to childcare that is provided by a variable market?

Again, a UBI won't magically remove the need for top-up benefits, but then neither will any other policy. Childcare is slightly more complex, although the simplest solution is probably to make your UBI, um, universal - with the payments for children under a certain age going to their parents or other guardians. The child's UBI pays for their childcare (with regional topups depending on local care costs).
But UBI takes care of the opposite problem too - one which doesn't seem to concern the author at all. It allows parents[2] who currently work because they need the income but would rather stay at home with their children to do so. With UBI, they still have a guaranteed income. They can work, full- or part-time, as they choose, but they no longer have to, because unlike the current UK system (as engineered by IDS), a UBI doesn't regard anyone not in paid employment as a villain to be punished.

[2] either parent, or even - shocking though some might find the idea - both at the same time, so that they can share the labour of looking after a baby/toddler/child for a few years.

4. Disability

The costs of disability are not related to employment; they are about how much additional money you need to be mobile and to buy things that allow you to participate in the world. How will UBI respond to this? Will there be an additional benefit system?

Yes, as noted above. It would hopefully be much more reasonable and less cruel than the current system, as well. But that isn't the problem UBI is designed to solve. Again, the clue is in the word basic; people with additional needs (like rent, and mobility assistance, and mental healthcare, and...) need additional payments.

5. Data and 6. Unemployment

our benefits system provides information about the extent of inequality which corresponds to race, gender and disability faultlines. To get out of the current crises we will need to use this information. How will UBI record this data if it is paid equally to everyone?

We are supposed to use unemployment data to measure unemployment. The willingness of people to sign on once a fortnight allowed the most accurate measure of unemployment available. This tool has been destroyed by conditionality, but it needs to be restored. How will UBI measure unemployment?

Clearly, information can still be collected about what top-up benefits are being collected by different groups under a new system as it is under the current one. Our current welfare system, as I understand it, provides very little information about inequality in any case, but I may be wrong about that. Most of that data, I had thought, comes from social care services (which are separate, and should be strengthened), with some from HMRC (in the form of data on tax credits and related info).
As for unemployment, before you can collect any useful data, you need to decide what you actually want to know. Dividing the population into "Employed" and "Unemployed" is inherently, increasingly and (I would argue) intentionally useless for anything except rhetoric aimed at battering those who fall into the second category. What about people working (for a company or self-employed) part-time but wanting more hours? What about unpaid carers (parents, partners, children, grandchildren, friends), full- or part-time? What about the other huge chunks of the population who don't fit into that simple dichotomy?

7. Gender and care roles

Caring functions used to be confined to the private family unit, but these days women are independent economic actors so a care economy has emerged to fill that gap. In a country with falling birth rates and an aged and rapidly ageing population, how do you propose this work will be done?

This is a real issue, and one that needs to be considered. A UBI won't magically solve things here any more than it will instantly cure all disabled people. And it isn't meant to; it's not a panacea, and this is outside the range of things it's intended to deal with.

8. Care workers

See question about childcare.

See answers about childcare and care roles.

9. Inequality

how do you propose to solve the issue of inequality and unequal political voices?

I have quite a few thoughts on returning some degree of equality of representation our political system. But none of them have anything to do with UBI because, again, that's not what it's for. No social security or welfare system is ever going to resolve issues related to political parties and representatives and their funding. (Although resolving the issues with political representation might well lead to much fairer social security.)

How do you ensure your two-tier benefits system does not end with those on the bottom tier being abused the way the “undeserving” claimants of Beveridge’s system were abused?

As the writer herself noted in her introduction, you can't control what other people do to change the system in the future. You can't "ensure" that some future government doesn't redesign a UBI-based welfare system to be inequitable, for the same reason you can't prevent them from scrapping it altogther.

10. Cost

How do you propose to pay for UBI when we need to keep the above top-ups?

The same way I'd pay for any other restoration of the benefit system. (Not to mention all the other stuff that the current government is cutting.) By restoring taxes on high incomes and corporate profits, and closing the loopholes.

11. Payment levels

How will you be deciding the level that UBI is set at? What measure are you using to decide how much is enough to live on?

Again, this question applies equally to any other way of running the benefit system. It isn't a unique decision that only has to be made for UBI, it's part of the basic function of government.

12. Financial Instability

We currently have issues with financial instability, and our benefits system will prove to be a key institution that stabilises our economy. It fulfils this function because it moves naturally to compensate for the fluctuations of the market economy; the ceiling of any cash transfer welfare system automatically reflects the lowest living wage, as seen by the Housing Benefit bill (see question one). How will UBI perform this function?

The theory (in part) is that a UBI might actually help reduce such instability, by ensuring that people always have some money available to spend. Of course, any properly functional social security system would ensure that even in the event of instability, no-one ended up homeless or choosing between food and heating, whether it included a UBI or not.

13. Employer subsidy

Tax credits are the only measurable subsidy received by employers who pay no tax. Measurement of this is going to be quite important if we cant tax capiatl because revenue raising. How will UBI do this?

I'm afraid I genuinely have no idea what the author is asking here; if someone can explain it to me in the comments, I'll try to answer.

14. State control

You are saying that 64 million people should be handed over to state control. How would you prevent state abuse of power when the entire population’s personal finances are reliant on the state?

Why would a UBI require more state control than any other welfare system (including the current one)? Everyone gets a payment of a certain amount each week, but that doesn't mean their finances are "reliant on the state" any more than is the case at present. (Which is to say, some people will be, because of their personal circumstances - myself, for example - and others will get most of their income elsewhere.)

15. Self employment

We have more and more self employed people, many of them with children. They currently can claim tax credits, the amount of which changes in response to fluctuating earnings. How does a fixed rate UBI address this?

In exactly the same way as the current system; when you're earning more, you get less top-up (or pay more tax) than when you're earning less. Why should it work any other way?

16. "And finally..."

f you need to keep or create additional benefits to meet the above needs – childcare, disability, housing, self employment etc – what specific problem in the UK benefits system does UBI actually solve?

This, while it does apply to any other way of simplifying our current system, is certainly a fair question. A good case can be made that it allows a big chunk of simplification, especially if it's high enough. (If you have a UBI that's equal to the zero-tax income band, then everyone pays income tax on all their non-benefit income.) If you don't have lots of complex qualification requirements, then you can get rid of the equally complex bureaucracy (and leeches like ATOS) that have grown up to support/implement/worsen those requirements. (Which you might be equally able to
do by simplifying the system in other ways, perhaps.) And so on.

TL,DR? The benefit system needs reworking, as the author of the original piece admits. Any system can be distorted to punish, rather than help, the poor (as the author also acknowledges), and our current system has become seriously distorted.
Our current benefits system held out for 70 years before the context changed significantly enough around it that we need to replace it. How long will UBI last and how will it respond to changing economic and social circumstances that cannot be predicted?

That's a hard question to answer. But it isn't a question that only applies to UBI, it's a question that needs to be asked of every solution anyone proposes. Unfortunately, I suspect that the answer is actually the same in every case - we don't know, because we don't know what the future will hold. We can only do our best to choose the option that gives the best results now.
Is that option going to be a UBI based system? I don't know, but I'm not willing to dismiss the possibility, given the various promising trials around the world. Yes, a UBI by itself is not an adequate social safety net, but no single measure ever will be.

Still TLDR? The benefits system is complicated, and currently broken. It needs fixing, and a UBI could be part of that fixed system. Is it part of the "best" solution? I don't know. I don't even know if there is a "best" solution. But some UBI-including solutions could certainly work.

[NB: responses to comments likely to be slow; I've spent about two days' worth of spoons getting all this on screen since the piece was posted yesterday, and I'm unlikely to have many spare while I recover from the exertion.]


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