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Letter: the UK needs a Universal Basic Income

The Chancellor's measures to support workers in employment are welcome. Yet we must go further to make sure that nobody falls through the cracks.

Neil Howard
25 March 2020
Chancellor Rishi Sunak speaking at a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on Coronavirus (COVID-19).
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Matt Dunham/PA Wire/PA Images

We, the undersigned, are a broad group of concerned citizens. Our numbers include senior NHS figures and medical leaders, leaders of the charity sector, Members of the Houses of Lords and Commons, local Councillors, political party leaders and senior academics.

While we are delighted that the Chancellor has recognised the urgent need to use fiscal measures to prop up economic demand, we urge him to consider a Universal Basic Income, alongside other measures like wage subsidies, to guarantee security for everyone during this crisis. This is particularly the case for the millions not in salaried employment – those who are self-employed, unemployed, on zero-hours contracts, in the gig economy and those caring for loved ones.

The Chancellor has announced that the British government will pay the wages of workers to enable their employers to keep them on as the coronavirus pandemic spreads. His statement outlined plans for the state to pay grants worth up to 80% of the salary of workers retained by their companies, up to a total of £2,500 per month.

By any measure, this is a remarkable step and reflects the unprecedented nature of the crisis we face. Yet we must go further. Although workers and their employers will unquestionably benefit from the move, millions of other people will not.

What, for example, of those already made redundant over recent days? Will Universal Credit suffice, assuming it can even be processed fast enough? What of gig economy workers and those on zero-hours contracts who currently have no work to do? And what of small-business owners or sole traders whose livelihoods have either collapsed or will do so imminently? What of all the unpaid carers with extra burdens of looking after children out of school, and elders and disabled people facing social care shortages?

For academics, politicians and hundreds of thousands of citizens around the country, the simplest, most effective, and most inclusive economic response to this moment is to introduce a Universal Basic Income, given to everyone unconditionally to make sure that nobody falls through the cracks.

Traditional social security policies and even radical measures like those announced last week operate on a safety net principle - to catch people when they fall, which right now millions are doing. Yet safety nets always have holes and people always fall through them. Millions are on the verge of doing so right now. By contrast, Universal Basic Income sidesteps the entire need for a safety net by offering people a secure floor to stand on – a cash dividend that will enable them to survive in the cash economy.

The Chancellor has made strides in recognising the raw economic vulnerability of ordinary people at this time, but he has missed a huge opportunity to secure the livelihoods – and ultimately the lives – of those who aren’t privileged enough to be in stable employment. Far more is needed and it is needed at once.

We urge the Chancellor to urgently convene the major banks, the Bank of England, HMRC and the DWP to design a mechanism to introduce a Universal Basic Income for everyone as quickly as possible. Reports from think tanks RSA and Autonomy show the range of options available to deliver this. The longer he waits, the more people will struggle. It is time to act.

Signed By:

Professor Baroness Ruth Lister (Labour), Loughborough University and House of Lords, UK

Lord Peter Gerald Hain (Labour), House of Lords, UK

Lord Bruce of Bennachie (Liberal Democrats), House of Lords, UK

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (Green), House of Lords, UK

Alex Sobel, MP for Leeds North West (Labour)

Fabian Hamilton, MP for Leeds North East (Labour), Shadow Minister (Defence) and Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Claire Hanna, MP for Belfast South (Social Democratic and Labour Party)

Layla Moran, MP for Oxford West and Abingdon (Liberal Democrats) and Liberal Democrats Spokesperson (Education)

Stephen Farry, MP for North Down (Alliance Party)

Sian Berry, London Assembly member, co-leader of the Green Party of England and Wales

Martin Osborne, Brighton & Hove City Councillor (Green)

Cllr Kevin Ritchie Leeds City Council (Labour)

Richard Charles Horton, FRCP FMedSci, Editor-in-Chief, The Lancet,

Dr. Simon Duffy, Centre for Welfare Reform

Professor Fiona Ross CBE, Chair of Trustees, Princess Alice Hospice

Maggie Gordon-Walker, Director, Mothers Uncovered

Patricia Young, CEO, Terre des hommes UK

Dr. Rajeka Lazarus, Consultant in Infectious Diseases and Microbiology, University Hospital Bristol

Pramod Subbaraman, NHS

Professor Barbara Evans, Chair in Public Health Engineering, University of Leeds

Professor Tim Ensor, Health Economist, University of Leeds

Professor Barbara Harriss-White, FAcSS, Emeritus Professor, University of Oxford

Dr. Guy Standing, FAcSS, Professorial Research Associate, SOAS University of London, UK

Professor Roy Maconachie, University of Bath

Professor David Graeber, LSE

Professor Ursula Huws, University of Hertfordshire

Dr. Neil Howard, University of Bath, Organiser of Academic Open Letter calling for UBI

Dr. Stuart White, University of Oxford

Paul Chatterton, Professor of Urban Futures, University of Leeds

Neal Lawson, Exec Director Compass

Michael Pugh, Basic Income Conversation, Compass

UBI Lab Sheffield

Dr. Reinhard Huss, International Public Health, UBI Lab Leeds

UBI Lab North East

Basic Income North

Basic Income South East

Barb Jacobson, Becca Kirkpatrick, Rev Karen Webber, Richard High, Hasanain Jaffer, Basic Income UK

James Lock, Opus Independents

Benet Brandreth QC

Anne Gray, Citizens Basic Income Trust

Mark Wadsworth, Citizens Basic Income Trust

Stephanie Riches, The People’s Powerhouse Co-ordinator

Dr Martin Schweiger, Senior Lecturer, UCL

Prof Shane Doyle, University of Leeds

Cllr Ann Forsaith Leeds City Council (Green)

Cllr David Jenkins Leeds City Council (Labour)

George Aylett, Chair of Labour for a UBI

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