Comment writer Jacob Dawson argues that the introduction of Universal Basic Income would have little benefit within the current capitalist economy
A universal basic income (UBI) is, in most cases, a monthly payment given to citizens of a certain country or region to aid in covering basic life expenses like rent, food, and transport to free up wages and other income to be spent elsewhere. I would argue that despite the wide adoption of this policy among the centre left, a universal basic income is a lacklustre measure which cannot address this continual crisis that capitalism throws at our society.
UBI was widely popularised in the US by 2020 democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang. His main campaign promise was a monthly payment of $1000 to everyone over the age of 18 with no strings attached (funded by a VAT on large tech companies). Yang argued this policy had origins in the 1960s-70s with activists and economists like Martin Luther King and Milton Freedman. Since Yang’s campaign, the idea has gradually seeped into UK politics particularly in the centre left parties like the Lib Dems and the Green Party, it has however been rejected however by Starmer’s labour.
Those who argue for a universal basic income see it is a cost effective route to eliminating poverty at the cost of only £67 billion pounds per year funded by ending tax breaks and corporate subsidies. If this is the case, then what possible drawbacks are there to such a solution to poverty? Capitalism. I would argue that a universal basic income is not something which would be effective in a capitalist society for multiple reasons. Firstly, the UK and US rental markets are some of the most unregulated on earth leading to a major housing crisis. Due to the introduction of the right to buy scheme and the lack of rent controls on housing, landlords are free to effectively raise rents as they see fit.
In my opinion, they are aided in this effort by the ruling class in government many of whom are also landowners, this creates a personal stake in restricting the development of new housing which only increases profit for landlords and landowners. It seems to me that even the housing that does get built is aimed solely at those with middle class income and above, with the ultimate, cruel aim to simply seek profit over people’s welfare. This greed has manifested in the Tory government’s failure to handle the housing crisis since entering government in 2010, if any minimum income is given to people landlords inevitably will see this as an opportunity to raise rent prices for increasingly substandard housing thereby eating away at the money aimed to solve these issues.
Secondly, installing a universal basic income relies on the assumption that future capitalist governments continue to adjust any UBI to rates of inflation which is by no means a guarantee. If successive conservative governments fail to adjust wages and welfare to current rates of inflation under huge union pressure, then it seems highly unlikely that they will do so for a UBI. In isolation, without adjustments according to inflation, a UBI is completely ineffective. Critiquing UBI is fine however what truly is the alternative if this supposedly innovative solution fails in the face of the selfish capitalist rental market?
Rather than looking to supply a minimum standard of living via a UBI, I would argue that pursuing free and universal utilities for all supplies a significantly more suited solution. By making everything from rent to water to electricity free, people will be relieved from the pressures of an ever continuing capitalist crisis. It seems clear to me that by opting for a broader, more radical approach to solving poverty, people will be given the power to pursue work and ideas which genuinely interest them and build on the characteristics which makes them unique as a rational human being.
In isolation, I believe a UBI in a capitalist system will do little more than be swallowed up by the greed and manipulation of the ruling classes who will only be pushed to pursue incremental changes to satisfy those in the political centre. Essentially, I see radical class action as the only route which breaks the vested interests of the ruling political and economic classes can a UBI truly be considered a solution to tackle poverty.