I agree with Neal Lawson in his Labour List article, that “the aftermath of Brexit must be the creation of a 21st-century system of social security with BI at its beating heart”.
But Universal Basic Income is not the entire solution. There are two key areas that need attention if basic income is to work. The first is housing. The second is transport.
Housing in this country is an expensive mess. If private landlords are the model we use to house those unable to buy, then we need controls on the renting market. We need a register of landlords, so unscrupulous landlords can be identified and barred from letting property. We need long term leases, five or ten year, so tenants have the security they need to plan a future. Finally, and most importantly, we need a ceiling on how much rent a tenant can be charged. We need to move away from a “market” led system, that has turned average incomes into poverty wages, we need a system based on incomes. Rents should be capped, set at say thirty per cent of a tenants take-home. Policies like this are the only way to make rents affordable.
The second issue that needs attention is transport. Public transport is expensive. The price of a season ticket rises as fast as service standards fall. Bus services are streamlined as sure as fares go up. Public transport needs to be cheap, and plentiful. That way it would become the affordable choice for most people.
A secondary benefit of cheaper housing and transport is spending power. If people weren’t made poor by housing and transport costs, they’d have more money to spend in the wider economy.
Finally, we shouldn’t see Universal Basic Income as an expense, it should be seen as an investment, a way to stimulate the entrepreneurial spirit in people. The reason many people do not start their own business is the crippling consequences of failure. If you mitigate the consequences with a basic income, people would be much more likely to make creative choices.
The idea of a basic income isn’t new, the richest families have been using the system for centuries. Rich parents routinely fund their children, at the very least offering a cushion that breaks the fall of failure. You’re much more likely to take a risk if your failure is mitigated by family wealth.
A basic income would offer a cushion to the many not just the few. It would free people to be creative, entrepreneurial, and much more productive.