With rising automation, is the Royal Society of Arts right that it’s time for a universal basic income?
Dr Lauren Ware, lecturer in philosophy at the School of European Culture and Languages at the University of Kent, says YES.
We suffer from a culture of competitive overwork that is unpleasant, unhealthy, and unsustainable. Faced with rising automation, the state should consider a variety of options: one of them is a universal basic income (UBI). A UBI allows for a freedom and security that is particularly beneficial when it comes to jobs being replaced by automation.
First, if people know their income is secure, they’re able to be more creative, to plan for the long term, and to allow time for caring for themselves and their loved ones. The research we have on fear tells us that it’s precisely when people are afraid that creativity and innovation wane.
Second, while critics of a UBI often argue that a guaranteed income would make people lazy, there really isn’t any strong evidence to support this. We all have things we love doing and would get pretty bored if we just did nothing.
As for the jobs no one wants to do: leave them for the robots.
James Price, campaign manager at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, says NO.
Spending on working age benefits this year will be roughly £95bn. Given that there are around 32m people of working age, that means a basic income of under £3,000 a year, unless spending was increased.
Topping up the incomes of the poorest to subsistence level, therefore, would require additional benefits, conditional on a whole range of factors. All of a sudden, we would be back in a system not dissimilar to our current one, save that FTSE 100 executives and Premier League footballers would also be handed £10,000.
If ever rolled out successfully, Universal Credit will strike a better balance between simplifying a complicated system while supporting those who need it and incentivising work. A negative income tax would be better still.
As for the huge job losses that some foresee in the wake of new technologies, every time this has happened in history, new jobs have replaced them making the entire premise of a universal basic income shaky at best.
Read more: Robots are coming for City jobs first