Love the idea of a universal basic income? Be careful what you wish for | Ellie Mae O’Hagan

Photo of Love the idea of a universal basic income? Be careful what you wish for | Ellie Mae O’Hagan

Yes, UBI could be an important part of a radical agenda. But beware: its proponents include neoliberals hostile to the very idea of the welfare state

For some time now, the radical left has been dipping its toes in the waters of universal basic income (or unconditional basic income, depending on who you talk to). The idea is exactly as it sounds: the government would give every citizen – working or not – a fixed sum of money every week or month, with no strings attached. As time goes on, universal basic income (UBI) has gradually been transitioning from the radical left into the mainstream: it’s Green party policy, is picking up steam among SNP and Labour MPs and has been advocated by commentators including this newspaper’s very own John Harris.

Supporters of the idea got a boost this week with the news that the Finnish government has piloted the idea with 2,000 of its citizens with very positive results. Under the scheme, the first of its kind in Europe, participants receive €560 (£473) every month for two years without any requirements to fill in forms or actively seek work. If anyone who receives the payment finds work, their UBI continues. Many participants have reported “decreased stress, greater incentives to find work and more time to pursue business ideas.” In March, Ontario in Canada started trialling a similar scheme.

Related: The Greens endorse a universal basic income. Others need to follow | Jonathan Bartley

What’s needed is not the arbitrary adoption of UBI, but a conversation about what a welfare state is for

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