UBI Without Public Services is a Neoliberals Paradise

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin ... No. 2190 ... September 11, 2020

UBI Without Public Services is a Neoliberal’s Paradise

Rosa Pavanelli

From tech-billionaires to socialist leaders, Universal Basic Income (UBI) has caught the imagination of many across the political spectrum. This mechanism, which would give everyone regular cash payments that are enough to live on, regardless of income or work status, is increasingly promoted as a key policy to maintain social stability and ensure a decent standard of living.

Yet many in the labour movement have been unsure how to approach the topic. This is why our trade union federation, Public Services International (PSI), has been working with the New Economics Foundation (NEF) to produce a detailed labour analysis on the issue. Examining 14 trials from India to Alaska, the report found that although UBI trials provided valuable insights into the nature of work and welfare, there is little evidence to suggest that UBI is the best tool to address the core challenges of our time: inequality, wealth redistribution, precarious work, and digitisation.

What the studies do demonstrate is that giving cash payments to... the poorest helps improve their lives and does not increase wasteful spending or laziness as many right-wing politicians would have us believe. This gives strong weight to the argument that our social welfare system needs an overhaul: we must do away with punitive activity testing and demonisation of the poor.

But government spending is inevitably about choices -- and compared to funding better universal quality public services, UBI doesn’t stack up. Providing a single mother with a cash payment to fend for herself in an inflated housing market is not as effective as providing quality public housing. Giving people more money to fill up their cars is not as progressive as offering free public transport.

When it comes to UBI, the models that are universal and sufficient are unlikely to be affordable, and models that are affordable are not universal. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates the global average cost for UBI, as a percentage of GDP, would be 32.7 per cent. The current global average government expenditure is 33.5 per cent of GDP.

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