Why it is time for Universal Basic Income

Ben Rutt-Howard discusses the Universal Basic Income policy proposal.

‘Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.’ (Victor Hugo) As all great political articles start, I do to, with a quote. Universal Basic Income, the idea in question, is something I surreptitiously read about in Dutch historian Rutger Bregmen’s book Utopia for Realists[1].

As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, an inevitable rise in unemployment will provide the opportune environment to implement this transformative public programme, perhaps rolling it out here in the UK. The UK, rather than being a world leader in fighting this pandemic, is a country whose austerity induced inadequacies have been rudely exposed. This pandemic was going to be a devastating blow to the economy but more worryingly to thousands of people’s lives, and our government’s policy has been found to be lacking at every conceivable point. The true benefits of this policy lie in its economic potential to turn people’s lives around, stimulate the economy, and provide profit for the state.

I shall present a tale for you. The year, 1973, the town of Dauphin in Canada. 30% of the towns inhabitant live in poverty, equating to about 1,000 households. March of that year these 1,000 household begin to receive cheques every month, which over the course of a year amount to the equivalent of what would now be around $4,750 per person. The results of this investigation are astonishing. An 8.5% reduction in hospital admissions with biggest reductions in alcohol and psychiatric related issues, but also a reduction in family physician visits. Small businesses were able to thrive, peoples entrepreneurial spirit ignited in no small part to banks being more willing to give out start-up loans with the added assurance of people’s guaranteed monthly payments. An increase in the number of teenagers graduating from high school, and in 1976, almost two and half years after the start of this experiment, 100% of Dauphin students applied for their final year of school. Evelyn Forget[2], the woman behind uncovering the findings of this social experiment in 2008, noticed that in the case of this last statistic, guaranteed incomes provided parents with the financial support to investment in human capital.

These result not only show that the health and wellbeing of the people receiving this income improved, but that they were able to produce benefits to the local economy, they were likely to produce a more highly educated workforce for the future as well. Even the long-held fallacy of Speenhamland cannot derail these amazing results. In the aftermath of this pandemic the NHS will need time to recover and bolster itself for if the unthinkable happens again, and what better environment to do this in if we can implement a reduction in hospital admissions.

Similarly, education is a symptom and not the disease. Yet despite this Tony Blair’s[3] hollow promise to turn around the fate of the British education system as a solution to poverty failed. This is due in no small part to the main cause of the poverty being a lack of cash rather than an uneducated population. You need to be able to envisage a future before you can hope to achieve it. UBI can be this treatment, and its time has come.

The way to economic recovery has to be from the bottom up. Quantitative easing is obsolete in the wake of this pandemic, those who have the most do not need more, we need to sow the seeds of prosperity and growth from a local level, not continue on our myopic pursuit of ever increasing globalisation. UBI should be the corner stone of our economic recovery, investing our money where we will see the most profitable return, not in the off-shore accounts of billionaires, but in the back pockets of those that need it most, the very people who should have been helped out of poverty long ago. Even the spirit of Brexit was predicated on a rallying cry for a return of our mysteriously ever-present sovereignty, and what better way to demonstrate this than investment at a local level.

Ben Rutt-Howard plans on doing an MA in Russian Musicology at Bristol University this coming year (pandemic permitting). He first moved to become more physically active in the political sphere when he gained employment in Portsmouth for a year becoming involved with the team of volunteers that helped secure the re-election of Portsmouth South MP, Stephen Morgan. 

He tweets at @HowardRutt.


[1] Bregman, Rutger (Trans Manton, Elizabeth) Utopia for Realists, and How We Can Get There (London, Bloomsbury 2018)

[2] Forget, Evelyn Basic income for Canadians (Toronto, Lorimer 2018)

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2001/may/23/labour.tonyblair (website accessed 13th July 2020)


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