Public backs Basic Income experiments in local areas, RSA poll finds

By agency reporter
August 4, 2018

Forty per cent of the public would welcome Basic Income experiments in their local area while just 15 per cent would oppose them, according to a new poll published alongside a Royal Society (RSA) report on how localities can develop alternatives to sanctions and mean-testing.

Realising Basic Income models how different kinds of Basic Income could sit alongside other social supports and provides a guide for people looking to develop Basic Income experiments.

The RSA argues Basic Income could help combat rising economic insecurity: earlier this year it found 32 per cent in-work have less than £500 in savings and 41 per cent less than £1,000 and that around a third of households already say they are not currently managing to get by, with a further third “just about managing” and at risk of a financial shock in a "decade of disruption" if Brexit and/or automation are mismanaged.

According to the Populus survey of more than 2,000 people, the public supports local experiments by 40 per cent to 15 per cent, and thinks a Universal Basic Income would provide better security than the status quo by more than three-to-one (45 per cent to 13 per cent).

Just 19 per cent agree “the current system is working in the main so there is no reason to consider alternatives”, with 44 per cent disagreeing with this statement – more than two-to-one.

Other key findings include:

  • The public overwhelmingly backs a welfare state guided most by concern for the poor and needy (54 per cent) rather than a laissez-faire model of "stepping out of the way so people can stand on their own two feet" (five per cent): By far the public think the most important moral principle for the welfare state should be helping the poor and needy, which 54 per cent support, followed by the contributory principle (23 per cent), intervening in individuals' behaviour (six per cent), stepping out of the way so people can stand on their own two feet (five per cent) and supporting traditional institutions like marriage (two per cent). Meanwhile 49 per cent think a Basic Income would "reduce the stigma associated with recieving benefits", with 16 per cent disagreeing. 
  • The current system is seen as failing: Just 19 per cent agree “the current system is working, so we do not need to experiment with Basic Income”, while 44 per cent disagree.
  • The public supports Basic Income in principle by more than two-to-one: Overall 41 per cent support Basic Income, 25 per cent neither support nor oppose it, while 17 per cent do not support it in principle.
  • But cost is a concern for the public, with 45 per cent worrying it was “unaffordable”. The most popular option for funding a Basic Income is raising taxes on the wealthiest (39 per cent).
  • Basic Income is seen as complementing work rather than anti-work – 56 per cent think a Basic Income would give people more incentive to work as it would remove disincentives to work in the welfare system - the so-called 'poverty trap'.

Since the RSA's 2015 report Creative Citizen, Creative State , Basic Income has moved from the fringe to the mainstream: for instance in February, the RSA's report calling for a £10,000 ‘Universal Basic Opportunity Fund’ as a pathway to Basic Income was the most-read news story on BBC Online for two days.

Through its Action and Research Centre, the RSA is helping develop a number of Basic Income experiments across the UK, including:

  • in Scotland, helping localities develop the proposals for planned Basic Income trials in four Scottish local authorities
  • helping build a movement for a Basic Income globally through our world-wide network of fellows.

Anthony Painter, Director of the RSA’s Action and Research Centre, said: “The Universal Credit experiment is failing on its own terms, while the wider welfare state is riddled with complexities and underpinned by draconian sanctions.

“By contrast, our poll shows that in an era of widespread economic insecurity, policy-makers have the public’s support to start exploring innovative alternatives to today’s failing and unpopular welfare system.

“Basic Income is no magic bullet, but with HM Opposition exploring the idea and the Scottish Government looking to pilot it with four Scottish councils, Basic Income is increasingly seen as one plausible response to modern economic insecurity.”

Charlie Young, report author and RSA Associate, added: “As Basic Income schemes are tested and designed, we need to give thought to how they meet peoples’ needs and natural concerns. This poll shows there's net support for Basic Income in principle, and that there's an appetite for experimentation.

“There are clear lessons for Basic Income advocates and supporters, including around building support from those who don’t support the welfare status-quo, as well as understanding that relying very heavily on increasing basic rates of tax is something people are unlikely to get behind. People favour more progressive ways of funding a Basic Income.

“As our report shows, there are lots of examples of Basic Income and Basic Income-type models around the world to consider as the idea gathers pace locally and globally. Figuring out which one might work best is an important part of moving further down this road.”

Jamie Cooke, Head of RSA Scotland, added: “This poll shows that the Scottish Government has the public’s support in testing a Basic Income pilot with four Scottish local authorities.

“In Scotland, the opposition to conditionality and sanctions is especially strong and we need to be testing alternatives to the current failing system. Basic Income has the transformative potential to end modern economic security that other interventions lack, and it is for this reason in Scotland we are seeing a thriving movement for change from all parts of civil society.”

* Read Realising Basic Income here

* Read Creative Citizen, Creative State here

* Royal Society


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