The future of welfare: Basic income?


The European Social Survey (ESS) is joining together with Ronnie Cowan MP to host an event that will look at public attitudes towards the introduction of a universal basic income in London next month.

Part of the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) Festival of Social Science 2017, the free event will be held in Portcullis House, Westminster, from 9am on Thursday 16 November.

Using new data from the latest round of the ESS that will be released in October 2017, the event will discover whether there is an appetite for introducing a universal basic income guarantee in the UK.

A basic income scheme is where the government pays everyone a monthly income to cover essential living costs and replace many other social benefits.

It aims to guarantee everyone a minimum standard of living as everyone receives the same amount regardless of whether or not they are working. People would also retain any money they earn from work or other sources.

This topical policy idea has been discussed in many countries, leading to basic income trials across the world. Finland began a two-year trial with 2,000 unemployed people in January 2017.

The event will discover whether there is public support in the UK for a pilot scheme and compare this with views in other European countries.

ESS will also present analysis of data showing attitudes towards the introduction of a basic income guarantee, in the context of other welfare attitudes gathered through the survey in the UK.

For the first time in the history of the ESS, a set of welfare questions included in Round 8 (2016/17) face-to-face surveys included an item on introducing a basic income guarantee.

The ESS will present some findings from this newly available dataset. Following presentations, there will be an open Question and Answer session in which attendees will have an opportunity to ask speakers what they think the implications of this data are for public policy.

Analysis of responses gathered through the ESS will be presented by members of the ESS HQ team - including Director, Professor Rory Fitzgerald - based at City, University of London.

Professor Fitzgerald said: “This is the first time that we have included questions in the European Social Survey on the concept of a universal basic income so we are really excited to discuss the results. We will focus on how the UK compares with other European countries, and public opinion on other items included in our welfare module. 

“The first release of information from Round 8 (2016) of our survey will include attitudinal data for a majority of the countries involved.”

Ronnie Cowan MP said: “A universal basic income is an idea which has been considered in various forms for over two hundred years. Luminaries such as Abraham Lincoln and Dr Martin Luther King have supported the concept as a way of helping alleviate poverty and providing society with a safety net.

“I wholeheartedly welcome the Scottish Government’s recent commitment to establish a fund to support local authorities as they develop their own basic income schemes.

“The Basic Income pilot projects are vitally important to the debate. To design, run and monitor pilots and analyse the results takes a great deal of expertise and effort but they may have the potential to shine a light on any shortcomings - opportunities and ultimately produce solutions.

“I believe a universal basic income is an idea whose time has come and I very much look forward to discussing the subject further.”

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